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…
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!
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!
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.
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
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!
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!
Congratulations to Michelle and Lyn – I’ll be in touch!
So, we reach the last pair of books for this 2011 giveaway, and I’ve saved the best until last.
How to Write Fantasy and Science Fiction, by Orson Scott Card (hardback)
“This award-winning classic on the art and craft of writing science fiction and fantasy provides invaluable advice for every science fiction and fantasy writer interested in constructing stories about people, worlds and events that stretch the boundaries of the possible – and the magical. They’ll learn: what is and isn’t science fiction and fantasy, and where their story fits in the mix; how to build, populate, and dramatize a credible, inviting world readers will want to explore; where the markets are, how to reach them and get published. There’s no better source of information for writers working in these genres.”
I’ve read this book so many times, I know it pretty much off by heart now. Unlike other how-to books, this one focuses on the particular challenges of writing SFF, including world-building and exposition; in fact a whole chapter is devoted to the latter and is, IMHO, worth the price of the book alone. Whatever else you may think of OSC’s personal views, this is a must-read for anyone wanting to improve their craft in this genre.
The King of the Crags, by Stephen Deas (signed paperback)
An ARC of the second volume in this fantasy trilogy, signed by the author – Stephen is an old friend, so I cheekily got him to sign this convention freebie at an SFF evening earlier this year
“Prince Jehal has murdered, poisoned and betrayed his way to the top. There is a new speaker for the realms, his opposition has been crushed, now he just has to enjoy the fruits of power. And yet . . . He feels more for the wife he married for power than perhaps he should and his lover knows it. And out in the realms those loyal to the old regime are still plotting. and there are rumours that the Red Riders, heralds of revolution and doom are on the ride. And still no-one has found the famous white dragon. The dragon that, if it lived, will have long since recovered from the effects of the alchemical liquid fed to the dragons of the realms to keep them docile, to block their memories of a time when they ruled and the world burned…”
Same rules as always – only UK/EU residents may enter, owing to postage. Leave a comment below, saying which book you’d like (or either, if so inclined!), before noon (UK time) on Saturday 31st December. Please use a valid email address in the comment form so I can contact you to get your snail-mail address if you win (don’t put either in your comments, for security reasons!).
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.
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.
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!
There’s been a lot of debate recently following an online survey asking readers for their “must read” SF list, the issue being that less that 10% of the suggested books were by women. Why, it was asked, the overwhelming bias?
Various explanations – and solutions – to this woeful state of affairs were put forward. Many pointed out that there is no lack of women working in the genre. From the writers themselves, through the often female-dominated corridors of the publishing industry, to the many women readers, we are everywhere. The problem is not absence but invisibility. Women’s writing is, by and large, being published, but apparently not reviewed, reprinted or talked about.
To me it all seems to come down to the same issue. Women are brought up to be mild-mannered and self-effacing. Girls do less well in mixed schools because their male classmates hog the teachers’ attention. Women have a cliched reputation for being talkative, but scientific observation has proved time and time again that in a mixed group, men do more of the talking and are far more likely to dominate the conversation. This is the real obstacle we are facing as women SFF writers – not active sexism or bias, but something entrenched deep in our culture, a potent mix of nature and nurture that drowns the female voice everywhere. Even we women are guilty of buying into this silencing, every time we worry that by standing up for women we are sticking our heads above the parapet and asking to be labeled as harridans or, perish the thought, feminists.
The fact that women’s voices can make themselves heard, without any apparent fuss, is proved by one writer currently in the limelight. Last month Lauren Beukes won the prestigious Arthur C Clarke award for her novel “Zoo City”. Now I haven’t read it yet, though a copy is sitting on my iPad waiting patiently, but I have a feeling that what attracted the nominations was not simply the quality of the book but the visibility of the author. Beukes is a South African journalist, a career that certainly isn’t for shrinking violets, so it’s hardly surprising that she is outgoing and fearless in the face of male domination of her genre. However she goes about it with such canny charm: stuffed toys based on elements from her books accompany on her public appearances, simultaneously disarming and attracting everyone she meets. She talks to everyone, and soon has them eating out of the palm of her hand.
Of course not everyone can follow her example – we’re not all that brave and extroverted. But it does show that, as the old saying goes, you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. If there’s going to be any positive discrimination going on, it needs to be just that: positive. No whining, no apologies for making a fuss; simply tell the world about all the damned good SF and fantasy that just happens to be written by women.
Postscript: on checking my own blog, I have realised to my shame that, of the six books I have reviewed, only one is by a woman. Part of that is because I have been researching the competition, and my corner of the genre is dominated by men. Currently on my TBR pile are Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard and Romanitas by Sophia McDougall. However I would very much like to find more women writers to review, so if you know of anything suitable, please give your suggestions in the comments! I’m looking for recently* published fantasy with a strong historical flavour, either real-world or secondary-world – but preferably no dragons, which bore the pants off me
* I have read – and loved – The Curse of Chalion, and will probably review it some time, but it’s several years old and I’d like to focus on new works.