Some of the editions of Ammonite: top three US publications, bottom two UK
Image description: Five different book covers for the same book: Ammonite by Nicola Griffith. The top row of three are US editions: Left is the most recent edition, still in print, that shows a semi-transparent woman draped in white overlooking a not-very-clear landscape with the suggestion of an ammonite in the sky–all in vaguely sandy colours. Middle is the original edition in bright orange, yellow and blue showing the view of an airlock opening onto space where hangs a jellybean-shaped spaceship in front of a planet with an ammonite-like cloud swirl. Right is another out-of-print edition showing a slice of a chambered nautilus you might find on a microscope slide, coloured to suggest an electron microscope image. Below are images of two UK covers: Left, the original, showing a giant, golden ammonite buried beneath a tribe of women on horseback trekking through a snowy landscape in front of standing stones; there are two moons in the sky. Right, the most recent Gollancz Masterworks edition, all in blue, of a woman standing before the lower section of a gigantic ammonite.
The exact publication date of Ammonite has always been murky. The copyright in US editions is listed as 1992 but in the UK it’s 1993, even though they’re exactly the same book, and even though the original sale was to Malcolm Edwards in the UK. (Read the story of how I came to write it.) And only then in the US to Ellen Key Harris-Braun (which is a story in its own right).1 It was not on general sale in the US until February 1993. There were very early copies of the paperback shipped specially to Atlanta, where I lived, at the end of January 1993 so that I could do a signing on a Sunday afternoon in the driving rain in an empty store—miraculously, I sold about 10 copies that day—but it wasn’t officially released in the UK until early March, when I went over to do authorish things in Leeds and London. However, I’ve not-quite-arbitrarily chosen March 8th as its book birthday.
So today is the 25th anniversary of the publication of Ammonite! It is a quarter of a century old. A quarter of a century of different editions and languages, of being taught all over the world, the subject of arguments, dissertations, and essays. A novel written a quarter of a century ago with no male characters. Still in print from Ballantine/Del Rey (US) and Gollancz Masterworks (UK). When I wrote it, I had no idea that so many years later that would still be regarded as noteworthy. It’s been described as a Biological What-If story, Sex-Romp on Girlie Planet, and a searing reexamination of gender. One day—sooner rather than later, I hope—I’d like to think the book will be described primarily in terms of its writing, the story and characters, rather than the fact that it’s entirely about women. Meanwhile, I’m grateful to all those who have loved the book and continue to do so. I’m very proud of it. (For a selection of reviews, links to two long and chewy fem-sf discussions of the book, a list of some of the awards it’s garnered, see the Ammonite page.)
Today, of course, is also International Women’s Day. Perhaps at some point in the future we won’t need a day just for women but I no longer believe it will be soon. I’ve watched the expansion and contraction of attitudes from, towards, and about feminism, and while the most recent arc might be towards justice, it’s pretty clear that the last few thousand years in general were an arcing away from equality in gender terms.
Being International Women’s Day it also means it’s the anniversary of the first performance of Janes Plane, the band I fronted back in the day. My recent stint in the studio to record the audiobook of So Lucky feels oddly like a return. I miss live music performance, but reading aloud is also pretty great.
Also also, and less happily, this is the anniversary of my diagnosis with MS. As with the publication of Ammonite, I don’t remember the exact date, only that I got the diagnosis the day after I got back from that UK trip to celebrate Ammonite‘s publication 25 years ago. So I’ve always associated my diagnosis with the beginning of my career as a novelist; illness and writing are deeply entwined.
So, yeah, a big day.
1 That copyright error has cost me countless hours of (fruitless) corrections to academic bibliographies. If you happen to be an academic building such a thing, please note: first publication date of Ammonite is 1993.