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Eastercon 2012

This weekend I was at Olympus 2012, the 63rd annual convention of the British Science Fiction Association, affectionately known as Eastercon. Mostly I was there to promote my newly published novel The Alchemist of Souls, but thanks to guest of honour George R R Martin it turned into somewhat of a Game of Thrones fan-fest!

I arrived around midday on Good Friday to find the convention already well underway and my book selling like hot cakes on the Angry Robot stall. I was determined to take it easy, as I had a busy schedule on Saturday, so I spent the afternoon catching up with friends and drinking as little alcohol as I could get away with (well, I could hardly refuse the champagne that Lee from AR bought to toast my book publication, could I?). I took myself off to bed early and was up equally early next morning, ready to face the world. Literally.

Hmm, where shall I conquer next?
Hmm, where shall I conquer next?

First up was the biggest event of the weekend, for me at least: a panel called How Pseudo Do You Like Your Medieval? with none other than George R R Martin himself. I met him in the green room, and he proved to be very friendly and easy-going – the farthest from a primadonna author that you can imagine. The other panelists were Juliet E McKenna, whom I’ve known for several years, and Jacey Bedford, who carried herself with aplomb despite this being her first ever convention panel. We were ably moderated by Anne C Perry, better known as co-founder of Pornokitsch and the SFF literary award The Kitschies, and I soon forgot that we were being filmed and live-streamed over the internet.

After all that excitement it was time for a quick lunch before my reading. I’d managed to forget to sync a copy of my book to my iPad, so I had to borrow a paperback from the Angry Robot stall. Fortunately I did this before my panel, as they were rapidly selling out. In fact, by the time I went back down to the dealers’ room to do my signing, the only copy left was the one I had read from! A great result, although Lee is probably kicking himself for not taking twice as many copies…

The afternoon was enlivened by an extra session, not featured in the original programme – an hour with cast and crew members from A Game of Thrones. First up was a fight demonstration by Jo Playford, aided by Miltos Yerolemou (Syrio Forel) and volunteers from the audience. Of course it was all about how to make a fight look good whilst remaining safe – rather the opposite of what I try to achieve in my fiction! – but nonetheless interesting to watch (and Miltos was very funny, ad-libbing to the audience). After that was an interview with John Bradley-West, who plays Samwell Tarly. John hung around afterwards and I got to chat to him in the bar that evening. Well, I did say it was a bit of a fan-fest :)

The Radisson Edwardian - a typical convention hotel
The Radisson Edwardian - a typical convention hotel

My final duty of the day was a panel on world-building with Chris Wooding, Simon Spanton, Suzanne McLeod and Robert VS Redick. Thankfully that was in one of the smaller rooms, though still well-attended, and we had a good discussion comparing real-world and secondary world fantasy. The evening was a social whirl, meeting lots of new people as well as hanging out with big-name authors like Joe Abercrombie and the aforementioned Mr Martin, and by Sunday I was exhausted! On Sunday morning I just managed to get to my final panel, on fantasy in Shakespeare, then retired to my hotel room to nap and follow the convention on Twitter.

Monday morning was spent catching up with friends once more, and of course the obligatory photo perched on the Iron Throne (above), which had been set up in the hotel reception. My husband collected me around noon, and we headed home to Cambridge, via lunch at Carluccio’s in Chiswick. All in all, a fantastic if exhausting convention – I’m just glad that AltFiction, this coming weekend, is a much smaller event!

A final thanks to all my friends, of whom there are far too many to mention, though I will give special shout-outs to Mike Shevdon, Tom Pollock, Laura Lam and Kim Curran, all of whom have books out in the next twelve months. Here’s hoping you guys sell out too!

SFX Weekender 3

When some one says “science fiction convention”, what’s the image that springs to mind? TV celebrity guests, with fans queueing for autographs? People dressed as Imperial stormtroopers and random anime characters wandering the corridors? Crowds of geeks roaming around stalls piled high with t-shirts, paperbacks and Doctor Who action figures? The SFX Weekender is all this, but with a very British twist: the venue is a Pontin’s holiday camp in North Wales.

As a result it was a very different experience to the kind of conventions I’m used to. No snug hotel bedroom with a fully catered breakfast in the morning; I slept on the most uncomfortable sofa-bed in the UK, needed a hot water bottle to stay warm at night (luckily I was forewarned and took one with me) and had to cook my own bacon sandwiches in the morning (oh, the humanity!). On the other hand, my chalet-mate Lou Morgan makes a much better cup of tea than any hotel kitchen :)

I also found all the cosplaying just a little unnerving, especially the five-foot-tall Dalek who accosted us on our way into the complex on Friday morning, demanding that we open the door for it or be exterminated. Suddenly I was a terrified six-year-old again and just wanted to hide behind the sofa! On the other hand the guy in the Alien costume, who must have been at least eight feet tall in his stilted legs, didn’t scare me at all, simply adding to the atmosphere of the con. Not everyone went the whole hog costume-wise; my friend Laura (right) opted for the low-key look, adding a pair of elf-ears to her normal ensemble.

I felt decidedly under-dressed as a result, though I was there at least partly in my professional capacity as a debut author so I didn’t want to look like just another fan. Since my book’s not out until next month, I just did one panel, “How to Get Published”. I got somewhat nervous as the time approached; attendance this year was up to 4000 people, and both main rooms had seating for hundreds! As it was, the stage lighting was so bright one could hardly see the audience, so it wasn’t all that scary after all.

It was great to catch up with the regular convention crowd, and Lou Morgan and Amanda Rutter were excellent chalet-buddies. I also met some more people I previously only knew online, including the jet-lagged and bemused Sam Sykes, and the lovely Stacia Kane, who turned out to live not that many miles from me.

Other highlights included a sing-along screening of “Once More With Feeling”, the Kitschie awards with Jared Shurin and Anne Perry (the latter in a gorgeous dress), the crowded but author-tastic Gollancz/Orbit chalet party, and of course the Saturday night disco with Craig Charles, where I boogied on down with Tom Pollock, Sophia MacDougall and China Mieville (shameless name-drop) until my feet were sore. Also, thanks to Jared I can now vouch for the fact that Kraken Rum (provided by the Kitschie sponsors of the same name) is delicious!

Will I be going back next year? I think so – it’s an awesome convention in its own way, and by then I’ll have at least one book out, perhaps two, so I’ll no longer be in that “not quite a published author” limbo. However I’ll be giving serious consideration to booking alternative accommodation, and damn the expense. Conventions are exhausting enough, without adding extra backache and sleeplessness to the mix!

BristolCon 2011

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend BristolCon 2011, a small SFF convention in the lovely city of Bristol (where I went to university). There were a few reasons for going: to see my alma mater again; to catch up with convention buddies; and of course to honour the memory of the late Colin Harvey, one of the founders of the convention, who died this August.

Sad memories aside, though, it was a fantastic little convention. The programme was packed with panels, interviews, talks and readings, and there were plenty of stalls in and around the dealers’ hall, selling everything from new and secondhand books to steampunk weaponry! The venue was also very good, and conveniently placed for both Temple Meads station and Bristol’s fine array of restaurants around the old docks.

Juliet E McKenna talks about the evolution of magic in her fantasy series
Juliet E McKenna talks about the evolution of magic in her fantasy series

I attended two very interesting talks. The first was by Juliet E McKenna (above), about how she worldbuilds as she goes along and how this has affected the evolution of magic in her fantasy series. We learnt about the reasoning behind her island city of wizards, how a chance comment in an introduction to her novella led to an entire trilogy about the Lescari revolution – and how the runes for aetheric magic were brainstormed with her husband one evening over a bottle of wine! We also got a preview of the cover art for her new trilogy, conceived as a triptych of characters. If you ever have the chance to catch one of Juliet’s talks, do so – she’s a great speaker and has a wealth of experience in writing fantasy.

Mike Shevdon demonstrates a composite bow
Mike Shevdon demonstrates a composite bow

The second talk was by Mike Shevdon, who is writing an urban fantasy series, The Courts of the Feyre, for Angry Robot and is also a keen archer. Mike brought along his collection of bows, from a fibreglass replica of the composite bows used by steppe nomads (see photo, right) to a decidedly steampunk-esque compound bow. He also showed us some film clips, the most interesting of which was the slow-motion movement of an arrow, showing how it flexes as it leaves the string, enabling it to fly straight despite the bow being in the way. Again, highly recommended for anyone wanting to improve their fantasy writing or just learn about this ancient technology.

Of course I wasn’t just a spectator this time round. In addition to a short reading, I sat on two panels: “Tricks and Tools for Writers” and “The Life-cycle of the Author”. I was a bit nervous beforehand, but the moderators made everyone feel very relaxed and ensured that all the participants got a chance to speak, so it was a very pleasant experience in the end. Both panels were recorded, so (sound quality permitting) they will hopefully be podcast at some point.

Overall I had a great time, made some more friends (and finally got to meet some online ones), so I’m looking forward to going back next year, writing schedule permitting!

FantasyCon 2011

This year was my third FantasyCon and the best so far (although last year’s has a special place in my heart, of course). The venue was an improvement on recent years – albeit very hot owing to an unseasonably sunny October weekend – and the programme was a lot better too: awesome guests of honour like Brian Aldiss and Joe Abercrombie, lots of panels and readings, and a great disco hosted by Sarah Pinborough, Guy Adams and Rio Youers.

For me, the weekend fell into three distinct phases. Phase one was arriving and catching up with lots of old friends from previous cons plus trying to identify online friends and put faces to name badges. I met up with Laura Lam, one of the Angry Robot open door month “finalists”, and introduced her to Lee Harris – who proceeded to take great delight in showing her his ereader, which was on chapter four of her manuscript!

I attended a couple of fellow authors’ readings and went to the mass book signing, where I got my copy of The Blade Itself signed by Joe Abercrombie. Mostly though I hung out with the rest of the Angry Robot crew: Marc Gascoigne, Lee Harris, Adam Christopher, Mike Shevdon, Lavie Tidhar and David Tallerman, picking up some very interesting gossip and rumours that I can’t possible reveal on this blog 😉

Phase two occupied the middle of Saturday: getting nervous about my upcoming reading, doing the reading, then chilling out afterwards. The reading itself went very well and I was absolutely bowled over by the level of attendance; admittedly the room was not large, but all the seats were taken and a couple of people had to stand (or sit on the floor). I read the first half of Chapter One of The Alchemist of Souls, which seemed to go down very well, and then answered a few questions from the audience. Although I wasn’t hugely nervous – I give presentations all the time at work – it was still a tiny bit stressful because I’d never done anything quite like it before, and it was a great relief to have it over and done with so that I could enjoy the rest of the weekend stress-free.

Sarah Pinborough introduces Brian Aldiss
Sarah Pinborough introduces Brian Aldiss
The final phase of the con was the most fun – more hanging out with my friends, but now without the pre-reading nerves. I met up with some online friends including Vincent Holland-Keen, Mhairi Simpson, and Fran Terminiello and her writing partner David Murray; and made new ones: YA author Alex Bell, writer/blogger Harry Markov and probably a bunch of other people whose names are temporarily lost in a haze of post-con exhaustion (for which, my apologies). Part of said exhaustion may be put down to the fact that I was up until 3am, booging on down at the aforementioned disco…

On Sunday I went to the banquet and awards ceremony, the highlight of which (for me) was seeing the great Brian Aldiss in the flesh. Aldiss got a standing ovation, mostly (I hope) out of respect for his contribution to genre fiction, but also because it’s always amusing to hear a man who looks like your favourite grandad swearing like a trooper!

Needless to say, I’m now feeling shattered – not to mention having a mild attack of “con crud” – and wondering if it really was a bright idea to fly straight out to Venice the morning after the convention, but I had a glorious weekend and am so looking forward to going back to Brighton in two years’ time for World Fantasy 2013!

AltFiction 2011

AltFiction is now in its fifth year and is rapidly establishing itself as one of the best conventions for anyone interested in fantasy, science fiction, horror, comics…basically everything that falls under the “speculative fiction” umbrella. 2011 was its first year as a two-day event, and my first attendance, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The venue was the QUAD, a small but well-equipped arts centre in the middle of Derby – handy for restaurants and pubs if you want to eat out, but the centre also has an excellent café and bar, with efficiently, friendly staff. In how many other places have you received an apology for it taking ten whole minutes to bring your lunch?

The high quality of the venue was matched by the packed programme of events. There were the usual panels and author readings, of course, but also podcasts, writing workshops, film showings, and a surprisingly entertaining book raffle, hosted by Guy Adams and Sarah Pinborough.

Paul Cornell, Damien Walter, Jon Weir and Paul Kane
Paul Cornell, Damien Walter, Jon Weir and Paul Kane

The small size of the convention also makes it easy to meet people. Whereas at larger conventions, the guests of honour are often remote figures who turn up for their interview and then leave again, at AltFiction they are more inclined to hang around and chat in the bar.

Mark Chadbourn, Juliet E McKenna and guest of honour Dan Abnett
Mark Chadbourn, Juliet E McKenna and guest of honour Dan Abnett

For me, the event was a good balance between interesting events and free time spent hanging out with friends and colleagues. My one frustration was that I wasn’t able to volunteer for any panels far enough in advance, as my deal with Angry Robot was under a press embargo for several weeks this spring. Still, there’s always next year!

Eastercon 2011

This week’s post is a little later than usual, as I came back from the con with a sore throat and headache, but I seem to have it under control now…

Illustrious was the 62nd Eastercon but my first. I’ve previously attended much smaller conventions, so I wasn’t sure what to expect out of this venerable institution, and I have to confess that overall I was a bit disappointed. Perhaps part of it was that the theme (military SF) wasn’t of interest to me, but mostly it felt like a small convention spread out over a large hotel complex, rather than a big convention. The few panels I went to were poorly attended, with only the Doctor Who showing (predictably) having the kind of atmosphere one expects from a major event. The hotel bar was also extortionately expensive; I live in Cambridge, which is not cheap, but even I find eight quid a bit steep for a glass of wine!

That said, I had a fantastic time, albeit mostly doing things that weren’t on the official programme. On Friday afternoon I had a look round the dealers’ room and a cider with friends from Absolute Write, then in the evening I met up with Marco, Lee and Mike from Angry Robot and a bunch of their authors, including Dan Abnett, Lauren Beukes, Aliette de Bodard and Lavie Tidhar. On Saturday, fellow new signee Adam Christopher and I tagged along to the Angry Robot signing in Waterstones, where I also finally met my agent, the very lovely John Berlyne of Zeno. The signing was a rather low-key affair, but given that it was a sunny bank holiday Saturday, it was hardly surprising that the population of Birmingham were away stoking their barbies instead of buying books.

Aliette de Bodard cunningly lures readers with homemade cookies
Aliette de Bodard cunningly lures readers with homemade cookies

The highlights of the convention programme for me were the BSFA awards, in which Aliette won the Short Fiction award for her story “The Shipmaker” and Joey Hifi won the art award for his cover of “Zoo City” by Lauren Beukes, and of course the Doctor Who opening episode “The Impossible Astronaut”, screened in front of hundreds of excited SF fans (free jellybabies FTW!).

I spent the rest of Saturday evening in the bar with Adam plus Louise Morgan and Ro Smith of Genre For Japan – since the price of drinks was so exorbitant, we got high on a very silly game of Consequences* that had Adam laughing so hard at one point, he couldn’t speak for several minutes!

Having perfected our modus operandi, Louise and I spent practically all of Sunday in the bar, hanging out with various new and old friends including Adrian Faulkner, Andrew Reid, Amanda Rutter of Floor-to-Ceiling Books, Gav Reads,  and Tom Pollock and Helen Callaghan of The T-Party writers group. There was a brief interruption to attend the first part of the Admiralty Ball and the Hugo nominations, before returning to the bar for more drinks and seriously silly conversation.

Saxon, Emma and Andrew in their finery
Saxon, Emma and Andrew in their finery

There was a surfeit of ladies for the first dance of the ball, so true to my books’ cross-dressing themes I offered to be a “gentleman” (I was wearing black jeans and a white pintuck shirt) – which would have worked a lot better if my lady partner hadn’t been a good six inches taller than me! Still, it was good fun, and the only dancing I managed all weekend.

Ambassador J E McKenna and her bodyguards
Ambassador J E McKenna and her bodyguards

The Admiralty Ball also featured an array of impressive costumes, from gorgeous Regency outfits worthy of a Jane Austen production, to homemade high-tech uniforms (apparently it helps to have a dad who’s an engineer…).

By Monday morning I was exhausted, so there was just time for a last mooch around the dealers’ room before going home. The worst thing about conventions is saying goodbye to all the wonderful new friends I’ve made, but there’s the consolation that I’ll see them again in a few months. As for Eastercon itself, I’ll definitely be back next year, if only because my book will be out by then and I’ll be the one doing the signings :)


* We each agreed to post a sample of our Consequences stories, so here’s the one I ended up with:

Being made of beaten gold, Brandon wept for the life he was condemned to lead. An eternity of servitude at the foot of the fiery mountain, his only friend a small songless bird.

‘This is the worst quest so far,’ he grumbled to the little bird.

‘You call this a quest?’ The little bird scraped the mud from his feathers and looked around the desolate wasteland. ‘You haven’t even got a drunk monk in your party! What gives?’

‘Listen, sugarlips,’ he said, ‘I don’t know what it’s like where you come from, but this is how we conduct our business round these parts.’

She shrugged, and handed over the gun and the emerald necklace.

The man shook his head. ‘No way, lady,’ he said. ‘That’s not the necklace you stole from the princess.’

‘This diamond is a fake!’

‘I know,’ he said, leaping into the biplane, his eyes fixed on the horizon.

And this was one of the more coherent ones…

FantasyCon 2010

Well, I’m home and just about recovered after an exhausting but exhilarating FantasyCon. Even more excellent than last year (apart from the hotel, of which the less said the better…).

As expected, I met up with some old friends from last year, and made some new ones. A word of advice: if you can possibly, possibly afford it, stay over at least one night, because all the really useful stuff like networking happens in the bar. After staying up until 2am for two nights in a row, I am quite hoarse – but it was so worth it!

I also bought a couple of books, including Never Again, an anthology of weird fiction against racism and facism, with proceeds going to charities like Amnesty International. Whilst I don’t consider myself to be at all political, somehow these themes creep into my work via my sneaky subconscious, so I wanted to see what other writers were doing with the topic.

Delightful surprises of the weekend, in ascending order of awesomeness:

  • Bumping into Sara Jayne Townsend, whom I hadn’t seen since the 2008 Winchester Writers’ Conference
  • Meeting up with Juliet E McKenna, another acquaintance from Winchester, who introduced me to fellow author Mike Shevdon
  • Introducing myself to Mark Chadbourn (on the flimsy excuse of getting him to sign my copy of “The Sword of Albion”) and ending up talking about Elizabethan fantasy and getting some recommendations on who to approach with my book
  • Serendipitously managing to get myself introduced to Marc Gascoigne of Angry Robot Books, pitching my novel to him and getting invited to submit sample chapters. Am still slightly in shock…

I’m already signed up for next year’s con, which will be in Brighton. Farther for me to travel but, apart from happy memories of my first two FantasyCons, I won’t be sorry to see the back of the Britannia Hotel, Nottingham…

FantasyCon 2009

I finally got my act together today and booked a place at FantasyCon 2009 in Nottingham (18-20 September). A couple of my friends from authonomy will be there, so I’m hoping to get some useful networking done, as well as having fun!