On Saturday I was a guest at Edge-Lit 2, an SFF literary convention held in Derby. I’d been to the previous year’s event and also to an iteration of AltFiction that was held at the same venue, so I was really looking forward to it.
Whilst I only did one panel this year, it was momentous in that it was my first time moderating. Luckily I already knew most of the panelists (see names in photo), so that helped to make it a more relaxing experience. I had sensibly prepared some notes beforehand (OK, at 11pm the night before, when I couldn’t sleep for nerves/excitement!), so it wasn’t difficult to get the ball rolling. Read more
I’m a bit later with this report than intended, mostly because I had so much fun at Eastercon I was too exhausted to process it!
This was my third Eastercon, and whilst last year’s was memorable for very personal reasons, this year was pretty good too. I’d been a bit doubtful about the location, as the convention venue was mainly a conference centre and had few bedrooms, meaning most people had to stay in city centre hotels about two miles away, but a constant flow of free minibuses meant that this was only a minor inconvenience. A bigger problem, as with Birmingham, was the lack of good places to eat within easy walking distance; the conference centre provided a relatively inexpensive buffet at lunchtime and in the evening, but the food was about the quality you expect from cheap mass catering. Fortunately we found a US-style diner over the road, where the food was excellent (though the service was very slow). However, enough about logistics – what about the convention itself?
There was a good selection of panels and of course the traditional Saturday evening live screening of the latest Doctor Who episode, complete with bags of jelly-babies (and a few technical glitches, so I’ll probably watch it again on catchup TV). A great new addition to the programme was the “genre get-togethers”, which were a series of informal book-signing-and-mingling-with-the-authors sessions. This was also an opportunity for authors (or their publishers) to give away books to interested readers, rather than putting them into goodie-bags at random only to be thrown away. Angry Robot kindly supplied me with a box of The Alchemist of Souls, so I was able to give some away at the get-together and the rest soon disappeared from the “free books” table on Sunday!
I was on three panels, the best of which was probably “The Changing Portrayal of Gender and Sexuality in SFF”, which moderator Penny Hill turned into a cozier discussion format than the usual “five people behind a table” panel, with lots of contributions from the audience. I also went to a couple of other panels: one on non-Western SFF, and a flash fiction contest featuring my friend and fellow Angry Roboteer Emma Newman (below).
Emma won the contest, and my side of the room won the quiz that Lee had put together to keep the audience entertained during the writing, so our plan for world domination continues apace. Also, it appears that I know more Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang lyrics than the average SF geek, which is maybe not something to boast about!
The non-Western SFF panel also gave me an excuse to talk to Stephane Marsan from Bragelonne, a French SFF publishing house, and we ended up having a long chat in the bar about Asterix, European children’s TV in the 70s (remember the Czech Mole cartoon?), and Kenneth Branagh’s Othello (filmed in Italy, with French actress Irene Jacob as Desdemona). It wasn’t all networking, though; mostly I just hung out with old friends from previous conventions (Sarah Newton, Emma Newman, Mike Shevdon, Adrian Faulkner, et al) and made new ones, or at least met people I already knew online (e.g. Brian Turner from SFF Chronicles). It was a lot of fun as always, if exhausting, and I’m now I’m really looking forward to the rest of my conventions this year, especially World Fantasy in Brighton.
Now, I really must go and sign up for Eastercon 2014…
I had planned to do a proper report on PicoCon, which I attended last weekend, but since I was unable to go on Saturday it felt a bit unfair to judge the whole event by the second day. So instead I’m going to give an entirely subjective and informal account of my day there, followed by a bit of news about EightSquared aka EasterCon 2013.
PicoCon is a small but long-standing SFF convention based at Imperial College, London. Traditionally it’s been a one-day event, but this year the organisers decided to extend it to two days. As with most such arrangements, the second day tends to be the quieter of the two, and since that was the day I attended, there wasn’t a lot happening that I wanted to go to. In fact, to be honest the main reason I went was because Richard Morgan was a guest of honour (see my review of The Steel Remains), and as far as I’m aware he doesn’t attend many conventions so it was a rare opportunity to meet him.
The morning kicked off at 10.30am with a talk by Morgan – and as a result I had to be pretty damned early in order to get a train into London, a tube to South Kensington and then locate the registration desk and lecture theatre. Thankfully this mission was accomplished, and I arrived in plenty of time. The talk itself was very entertaining: Morgan began with a reading from his forthcoming novel The Dark Defiles (the third in the A Land Fit for Heroes series) – thankfully spoiler-free, since I haven’t yet read The Cold Commands! Afterwards he solicited questions from the audience and we got a lot of insight into his writing process – he admitted he has serious trouble planning novels, which was rather comforting! – and his attitude to violence. I haven’t really digested all of the latter yet, but the gist of it is that he sees humans as innately violent and hardwired to be suspicious of strangers, but considers that to be a poor excuse for actual violent/racist/sexist behaviour.
After the talk he did an informal signing in the seating area outside the lecture theatre, which turned into a long chat with us fans, including fellow writers Michela D’Orlando and James Buckley whom I’d met at previous conventions. As a result I didn’t get my hardback copy of The Cold Commands signed before he went to lunch, so I attended another panel he was on in the early afternoon (a general discussion about SFF by writers and editors) and then hung out with him and the others until it was time to go home.
All in all it was a pretty good day, and my only complaint would be that the bar was an awful long way from the lecture theatres, which reduced socialising options a good deal.
I don’t have a lot of details at this stage, except that I’m reliably informed I’ve already been pencilled in for at least one panel (on cities in SFF) and probably several, so it’ll be another busy working convention for me. I shall be at the convention all weekend (around midday Friday to midday Monday), so I hope to see you there!
2013 is going to be a little quieter for me than 2012, but I still have a fair few events lined up so I thought I’d look ahead to the rest of the year. You know, in case you fancy catching up with me, getting a book signed or whatever!
PicoCon is a small convention, formerly only one day, that’s held at Imperial College in south-west London. I shall definitely be there on the Sunday in time for guest Richard Morgan’s talk, and will no doubt hang around for a good chunk of the day. I don’t have any programme events lined up, however – I’ll just be there to hang out with my SFF buddies (and get my copy of The Steel Remains signed!).
As far as I know the programme for Eastercon (aka Eight Squared) hasn’t been organised yet, but I’ll be there for the whole weekend and there’s bound to be some kind of signing event for The Merchant of Dreams – just ask at the Angry Robot stall in the dealers’ room!
13 July: Edge-Lit, Derby
Another great little convention, currently only one day but well worth attending. The Derby QUAD is a great venue, and since the con is small it’s a great place to dip your toe in the waters.
Another fantastic one-day regional convention with a strong programme and a great location (I went to university in Bristol, so maybe I’m biased…). I usually do a couple of panels, and hopefully I’ll get a reading slot for The Prince of Lies.
Last Saturday saw the return of BristolCon, the small but perfectly formed SF convention based in the city of the same name. It was my second year of attending, and though it’s a long way to go for a one-day convention, it’s well worth a visit. The programming is always excellent, managing to avoid the usual tired topics that get recycled every year at the larger conventions in favour of such delights as “Toilets in Outer Space – practicalities for a fantastic world” and “Women in Sensible Armour”. I attended the latter, which of course started off with general ridiculing of chain-mail bikinis but soon diverged into related topics such as women in the military and women passing as men. Of course it covered some of the same ground as many panels on gender, but the specificity of the title gave the panel a focus and direction that it might otherwise not have taken.
My own schedule was fairly modest: a place in the mass signing tables, a panel and a reading. A couple of girls from Fantasy Faction turned up with copies of The Alchemist of Souls for me to sign, which was gratifying, and I think Forbidden Planet sold all but one of the copies they’d brought with them. The panel, on “The Evolution and Future of Steampunk” was lively, to say the least, but the very dapper Philip Reeve did a splendid job of keeping us all in order. After the panel I read from The Merchant of Dreams; just a small excerpt from the end of Chapter 5, since it was only a ten-minute slot. Nevertheless it was well-attended, and I hope has whetted a few more appetites for the next book.
I was also interviewed by Mary Milton for ShoutOut Bristol – that will appear on one of their shows soon. I was a bit nervous, so hopefully Mary has been able to edit out all my hesitations and ramblings!
At the end of the day there was a short ceremony to thank the guests of honour, at which Gareth Powell was given the best GoH gift ever: a stuffed toy monkey in a flight suit., aka Ack-Ack Macaque. As Gareth’s fans will know, this is the eponymous character from his new book, due out in January next year (the same day as the UK paperback of The Merchant of Dreams, as it happens).
By Saturday night I was really tired and therefore decided to go to bed a little earlier than I normally do at conventions; an unwise decision as it turns out. I had just got into bed and started to feel sleepy when I was woken by the fire alarm! I pulled on jeans and a warm top over my nightie and headed to the stairs… Fortunately it was a warm dry night and we didn’t have to stand outside too long (it was a false alarm caused by a lift malfunction), and it gave me an opportunity to finally corner Marc Gascoigne for a chat about cover designs for The Prince of Lies
BristolCon 2013 is scheduled for October 26th, i.e. the weekend before World Fantasy. I shall be at both, of course, so I hope to see you there!
This year was my fourth FantasyCon and the second one in Brighton. As ever it was an excellent convention, with the added advantage of a great location by the sea.
Having been unimpressed by last year’s venue, I booked into the nearby Queen’s Hotel. It’s another old hotel like the Albion so the room was a touch shabby, but clean and spacious—and with a sea view at no extra charge. The fact that my room number was 101 was a little disturbing, but nothing ominous happened over the weekend, thankfully!
As often seems to happen at FantasyCon, I failed to attend much of the programming. There were a few reasons for this. In the case of the panels, there weren’t a great many, and they fell into three categories: the “how to” ones for aspiring writers (no longer of much use to me!), the once-interesting topics that I’ve seen again and again and sometimes even participated in (gender in fantasy – yawn), and topics I’m just not that interested in (anything about horror, for starters). So, not necessarily a bad selection, just not of much interest to me. As for readings, they were once again held in the small room on the front of the hotel that gets baking hot whenever the sun shines; it was bad enough in there at my own 11am reading, so I didn’t feel inclined to suffer a second time! That said, the reading went very well, and I got some good questions from the audience.
Mostly I hung out in the Regency bar (much less hot and stuffy than the seafront lounge), catching up with the multitude of friends I’ve met at previous Eastercons. This is getting harder and harder, as I know so many people now—my sincere apologies to anyone I missed! I went to the mass signing and got my copy of Before They Are Hanged signed by Joe Abercrombie, and although I didn’t have a formal signing session of my own I ended up signing several copies of The Alchemist of Souls just through being approached by readers (mostly friends, admittedly!). Also, Lee from Angry Robot gave me another set of author copies, this time CD boxed sets of the audio version, so I dare say I’ll be giving away one of those. Watch this space!
The one type of event I do try and catch is the Guest of Honour interview, and as usual these didn’t disappoint. I only made it to the Mark Gatiss interview, but apparently the rest were excellent as well. Gatiss was interviewed by Mark Morris, and the result was a long train of entertaining anecdotes covering his dual career as actor and writer. I particularly recall his description of being cast as Doctor Lazarus in Doctor Who; he said that the original script read “Lazarus emerges from the capsule, a blond Adonis”, but the final version that they filmed just said “Lazarus emerges from the capsule”! He also mentioned how much fun it was in Sherlock, playing around with people’s expectations that he would be playing Moriarty, e.g. Mycroft’s line about being Sherlock’s worst enemy.
I ducked out of the convention for a couple of hours after that, firstly to have my now-traditional fish’n’chips on the promenade—a somewhat surreal experience, with the full moon overhead and a motionless carousel playing traditional fairground calliope music—and secondly to watch the Doctor Who season finale on TV in my hotel room (unlike Eastercon last year, they didn’t show it at the convention itself). Add in a cup of tea whilst watching the telly, and my evening was about as English as you can get!
Saturday ended with the now-traditional FantasyCon Disco in the bar, ably hosted by Rio Youers and Guy Adams, with a little help from Sarah Pinborough. We danced and sweated from 10.30pm until the wee hours, though I confess that I bailed at 2am with aching feet. Still, I got off more lightly than Tom Pollock, who won his dance-off against Joe Abercrombie despite a sprained ankle which swelled up horribly the next morning.
On Sunday I had another official duty, and this time something that I couldn’t announce in advance. About a fortnight before the convention I got an email from fellow debut author Kameron Hurley, asking if I would accept the Sydney J Bounds Best Newcomer Award on her behalf, since she wasn’t able to make it to the UK. Thankfully all I had to do was introduce the video of her acceptance speech, but it was still somewhat nerve-wracking and I was relieved when all the photography was over! Nonetheless it was a huge honour to do it, and my thanks and congratulations to Kameron, who is now a multi-award-winning author on this side of the Atlantic.
It wasn’t all convention activity this weekend, though. Brighton is a great place to shop, and so I came home with two pairs of Terra Plana trainers (one pair free in the sale), a beautiful suede handbag and more Montezuma chocolate than was entirely sensible. Also, after the convention’s Dead Dog Party had begun to wind down, I went out to dinner with Lou Morgan, Adam Christopher and Will Hill, for steak, prawns, wings and a huge maple-pecan-brownie ice cream sundae (Lou and I shared it because, you know, we’re not total pigs!). A lovely end to a great convention; can’t wait for World Fantasy in Brighton next autumn!
A few days ago I flew out to Chicago for my first US convention, Chicon 7 (aka Worldcon 2012), the 70th World Science Fiction Convention. I was very excited about it, mainly because it was a chance to finally meet a whole bunch of writer friends from the other side of the Pond, as well as being only my second trip to the States. For starters, I got to meet fellow Angry Robot authors Chuck Wendig, Madeline Ashby, Lee Collins, Matt Forbeck and Wesley Chu; Wes is a local, so he took us along to a restaurant for the obligatory Chicago-style deep-dish pizza (though I have to confess I much prefer New York style thin crust).
I had a busy schedule at the convention: reading and signing sessions, as well as three panels. The first panel, on Writing Gender Roles in Science Fiction (and fantasy – we didn’t confine ourselves to SF) was at 9am on Friday morning, and I was feeling both jetlagged and hungover—the latter a result of staying up late drinking scotch and chatting with Doug Hulick and a bunch of fencers. I was therefore not really on top form, especially when it came to giving examples of good gender writing in fantasy; indeed my main interest in the topic is down to the paucity of same, particularly in epic fantasy. That’s not to say that epic fantasy is uniformly bad in this respect, but picking out books worth recommending is another matter entirely.
My second panel, on Constructed Languages in Science Fiction and Fantasy, was rather less stressful, and it was awesome to find myself sitting next to moderator David Peterson, who created the Dothraki language for the Game of Thrones TV show. I only wish I had had time to talk linguistics with David outside the panel, as he chose to focus on general advice for writers rather than a technical discussion of language design. Finally I did a panel on Saturday morning called Why I Love My Editor. Since I only have one book out, I didn’t have any horror stories of errors that made it into print, but I was able to talk about my own editing process and of course about the pleasures of working with Marc and Lee of Angry Robot.
In addition to sitting on panels I also attended a few. Violence in Fantasy, moderated by Scott Lynch, was entertaining and sometimes thought-provoking, as was Vivid Character Building. The latter panel’s members (Kay Kenyon, Carol Berg, Brian Thomas Schmidt, Teresa Frohock and Randy Henderson) had a wide variety of approaches to the topic, which is always helpful. I only wish I’d made more notes! The other really good event I attended was a one-man talk by Ramez Naam, one of Angry Robot’s newest authors, on Merging Mind and Machine. This was a look at past research, current technologies and possibilities for the future—all utterly fascinating.
Of course conventions aren’t just about the formal programme. For new authors like myself, they’re a great opportunity to meet one’s peer group and network informally, particularly in the bar! Mostly it’s just sitting around drinking and talking, but one night I did get roped into a silly card game called “Apples to Apples”. I won my first round out of sheer beginner’s luck, but Mur won the game overall. (Apologies for the terrible photo, which was taken with my phone.)
One of the most awesome parts of networking is getting to meet so many people who, until now, were just names on book spines. For example, the night after I saw him on a panel, I met Scott Lynch and just about managed to rein in my fan-girl reaction when he said that my book was on his TBR list! And in addition to Mur Lafferty, I got to meet a couple of other favourite podcasters: Howard Tayler and Mary Robinette Kowal of Writing Excuses. I also spoke to Elizabeth Bear, Carol Berg, Saladin Ahmed…the list just goes on.
As well as these famous names, I hung out a good deal with fellow debut authors Doug Hulick, Mike Cole, Kameron Hurley, Teresa Frohock, Courtney Shafer, Brad Beaulieu and Mazarkis Williams, drank some more whisky and ate dried crickets and mealworms at the Night Shade Books room party. It was all Kameron’s idea, since her book has bugs in; you were challenged to eat a bug in order to get a free book. I didn’t need any more books, but I ate some of the bugs anyone, just out of curiosity. For the record, the cricket was very dry and felt like it stuck in the back of my throat, but the mealworms were quite nice.
No convention would be complete without a tour of the dealers’ room. I’m afraid I went a bit mad and ended up with three t-shirts, two books (a secondhand paperback of Shadowspawn by Andrew Offutt and a personalised signed copy of Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal), two necklace-and-earring sets and a steampunk pocket watch! I could easily have spent twice as much, but I didn’t want to over-stuff my suitcase and get charged for it.
On Sunday I took a day off from the convention to spend time with my husband (who came to Chicago but didn’t want to attend the con). We had a lie-in and a late breakfast, then walked through Grant Park in search of entertainment and culture. On the way I spotted a remarkably russet-coloured grey squirrel; like most urban park squirrels he was quite tame and came closer when called. Not too close, however, especially once he worked out we didn’t have any food for him!
We were going to go to the Chicago Institute of Art, but there was a horrendously long queue and it was a hot sticky day so we ventured further south. Eventually we reached the Field Museum, which specialises in anthropology and zoology—two of my favourite topics! The museum is enormous, and I could happily have spent at least a day looking around it, probably more. Sadly the Genghis Khan exhibition was sold out, but there was plenty to see in the extensive Native American galleries. All the major cultures of the Americas are covered, with artefacts ranging from Aztec gold and jade to woven baskets from the Pacific Northwest, and even replica houses.
At the museum shop I bought a book about pre-Columbian America and a hand-carved stone fetish. This little fellow now has pride of place on my desk, and I hope he will bring me some fox-like cunning to aid my storytelling
Sadly I was too exhausted from my tourist day to attend the Hugo awards, so I didn’t get to meet Neil Gaiman. Still, I did meet nearly everyone else I had hoped to, and more besides. All in all it was a fantastic convention, possibly the best I’ve attended so far, with a great programme of events and an amazing guest lineup. Apologies to anyone whose name I have omitted; there were just too many to list.
We flew back to England on Tuesday; I was happy to be going home, but sad to be saying goodbye to so many new friends. However World Fantasy is in Brighton next year and, better yet, London has won the bid to host Worldcon 2014, which hopefully means that some of them will be coming over to visit. I know I can’t wait…
An unexpected post today, as I belatedly* received my Worldcon schedule this morning!
Thursday 30th August
Friday 31st August
9-10.30am Panel: Writing gender roles in science fiction
1.30-3pm Panel: “To Be” or not “To Be”: constructed languages in SF&F
Saturday 1st September
10.30am-12pm Panel: Why I love my editor
So, a busy couple of days at first, then I’ll be chilling out on Sunday so that I can enjoy the rest of the con without collapsing in a heap!
* I didn’t receive my confirmation email at the same time as everyone else – must have been lost in the ether, or perhaps caught in a spam trap? – so on impulse I contacted the organisers yesterday, just in case. So glad I did!
One of my favourite UK conventions is AltFiction, a relatively small event based in the East Midlands and focusing more than most on writing and writers. I first attended last year, when it took place in Derby, but this year it moved to what I understand will be its regular venue in future, the Phoenix Arts Centre in Leicester. The convention is a day and a half long (all day Saturday, plus Sunday morning), with a packed programme of events.
My first day at the convention was pretty quiet – I had no panels or other appearances booked for Saturday – so I was free to mooch around, attend a couple of talks, and most importantly, catch up with a bunch of friends I had missed at Eastercon. In fact it was surprising how many Eastercon attendees managed to make it to another convention only a week later, especially given that many of them had been adamant a few weeks before that they couldn’t possibly do two conventions in a row! I think it’s a testament to the affection in which AltFiction is held that people turn up when they could be have a well-earned weekend at home.
The first panel I attended was “Not another f*cking elf!”, in which Paul Cornell, Emma Newman, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Jenni Hill debated the well-worn fantasy races and how attitudes to them had changed over the years. It was entertaining and occasionally quite erudite, and the only downside was that many people had to be turned away as it was held in a tiny room with only about two dozen chairs. This turned out to be a significant problem of the venue – the huge size difference in rooms meant that the large one might be sparsely populated whilst the small one was overflowing. I’m sure the organisers tried to predict which panels would be most popular, but people can be contrary!
The afternoon panels were less successful. I went to one on genre TV which mostly discussed one-off mini-series that I’d never seen, pretty much ignoring all the big-name shows. Whilst I appreciate that shows like Doctor Who may have been discussed to death in other conventions, a panel that focused on British SFF shows and their mainstream appeal, and then totally ignored the success of Life on Mars and Being Human in favour of obscure titles, failed in my opinion to entertain – and I have to say that I blame the moderator, Steve Volk, for the narrow focus of the discussion. The other panel, writing as a day-job, was equally off-topic, in that none of the panelists earned a living as a writer, they simply didn’t have a day-job (for various reasons, such as unemployment). Anyone hoping to quit their day-job would have been better off going to Mark Chadbourn’s “workshop” (really a talk) on the business of writing, but numbers were limited and you had to sign up for it.
The evening passed in usual convention style, i.e. a bit of milling around whilst you and your friends sort out which restaurant you’re going to for dinner, followed by dinner itself (in our case, a good but unremarkable curry) and then back to the hotel bar. Most of us were staying at the Ramada Encore, only a few minutes’ walk from the venue – it was modern, clean and not too expensive, although the tea (at breakfast and in the bedrooms) was as terrible as one usually expects from a three-star hotel. Much better tea – and very reasonably-priced, good quality food – was available at the venue itself.
Although there were few book stalls, and none selling The Alchemist of Souls, I was asked to sign a few copies that had been brought along by friends. It was great to finally get to meet people I’d previously only known online, including book blogger Erik Lundqvist and my newest beta reader, Fatihah Iman.
The convention resumed late on Sunday morning, and I had a panel at noon on diversity in fantasy, with Mark Charan Newton, Adrian Tchaikovsky and Sarah Cawkwell. Mark was our moderator and came well-prepared with a long list of notes and questions on his iPad, and under his guidance our discussion covered a whole gamut of topics – gender, sexuality and race – with regard to the books themselves, the authors and the fans. The panel was well-attended and seemed to go down well with the audience, and for me made a satisfying end to a short but sweet convention.
Next year, thankfully, AltFiction will be in late May, thus avoiding butting up against Eastercon, which will make it even more of a must-do convention. See you there?
As an aside, the Discover Festival that was due to take place in Coalville in May has been cancelled by the organiser, so I won’t be in the Midlands again until Edge-Lit in Derby, in July.