Monthly Archives: October 2011

Bristolcon 2011

My second con ever, and only twenty days after the first one (Fantasycon). Having learned my lesson from last time I went prepared (laptop, kindle, programme, pens, food), and I travelled by train so I could have the luxury of  a bit of me time – for reading, writing, eating and . . . er, tweeting.

It was strange to be leaving everyone else at home and being out on my very own for an entire day. Might not strike you as strange but for the last four years I’ve had two little people to wait on, I mean, care for (three if you include my husband). I left the house in darkness, as the light grew I settled down and read a quarter of Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick and some of the opening chapter of Wolfsangel by MD Lachlan.

The hotel was big, plush and modern, not the cosy, faded grandeur of The Albion. Their wifi actually worked which was a bonus. Because it was bigger and with fewer guests (roughly 150 compared to the 500 odd that were at Fantasycon) there was less of a shoulder-to-shoulder atmosphere with the other guests which had provoked a lot of conversation and made it a little easier to chat to people. However this time round I didn’t have David the icebreaker with me, and coffee, rather than booze, seemed very much to be the fuel of choice.

Soon after I arrived I bumped into Anne Lyle, the only familiar face, but everyone there was very friendly and I wish, as usual that I had spent more time talking to people.

Bristolcon was split into two streams so at any one time you had two options of panel or workshop to attend. In between each one was a reading. Simultaneously they were running something called Kaffeeklatch – a word of Dutch origin which is where a small group of people get to meet and chat over coffee with an author.

I got a very nice goody bag, with lots of sample chapters, badges, stickers, posters and a copy of Brisingr by Christopher Paolini. Which I guess means that I now have to buy the previous books if I want to read it! Read on for more commentary on epic fantasy.

I started in Programme one, where Joanne Hall, the chair of Bristolcon made a friendly introduction. There then followed a panel with Justina Robson (chair), Gareth L Powell, Alex Keller, Joanne Hall, Dolly Garland and MD Lachlan. The subject was If all men are authors, who are the audience?  The general consensus was that anyone should be allowed to write a book, but unless it is well written and edited it should not be unleashed on the public. Along the way there were a lot of insights into the working life of an author and the different writers’ experiences of the industry.

Later in the afternoon I attended The Genesis Panel – how does an novel become epic? chaired by Cheryl Morgan, with Alastair Reynolds, Philip Reeve, MD Lachlan, Harriet Castor and Alex Keller.

This was of significant importance to me because our manuscript is far bigger than we had originally intended, and I wanted some insight into whether this was because we needed to cut it into two books or do some serious pruning. It was very interesting to listen to. I got the impression that publishers are more than likely going to ask for a sequel soon after as they take a writer on board. Sometimes they ask for multiple book contracts, and sometimes they reject the book you’ve written in preference for the synopsis you’ve prepared for its sequel.

I listened to Philip Reeve’s reading from his latest book, Scriveners Moon, part of the Mortal Engines series. It’s a childrens story set in a post-apocalyptic future, I found it very entertaining and Philip has a commanding presence as a reader.

After a couple of hours of more mooching, looking round, eating and tweeting, I went to Mark Barrowcliffe’s (MD Lachlan’s) Write your novel in 45 minutes. Yes, I was intrigued by the title and the challenge. In this time we as a group outlined a comedic tale about an incompetent intelligence officer with an AI laptop that is working like a modern-day genie to improve his standing in life, with farcical results. It was a bit of fun and there were some interesting ideas thrown around, but the serious side of it was getting the stucture of a novel put together, and seeing how Mark (who teaches creative writing) goes through the process of creating a bare skeleton of a plot.

This was followed by a reading from Mark’s new WIP (which I believe he has another pen name for), set in the dark ages. It was certainly very intriguing, full of dark humour in a very vivid setting.

The last panel I attended was The Life Cycle of an Author – or – George RR Martin is not your Bitch, to quote the now legendary Neil Gaiman phrase. The panel consisted of Wayne Simmons (Chair), Joanne Hall, Anne Lyle, Jaine Fenn and Paul Cornell. It was both entertaining and intriguing, as the panellists explored the unrealistic expectations they had experienced of the readers of their work, ranging from ‘do you just write the words in the little balloons?’  to ‘Are you the next JK Rowling?’.

I finished the day by listening to Anne Lyle reading from her upcoming debut, The Alchemist of Souls. I can’t remember if it was the opening chapter but the atmosphere she set was tangible in the reading, and the supernatural elements quickly become part of the story. I can’t wait to read it.

In all it was a great day, busy. I learned a lot about the nuts and bolts of publishing and the craft of writing. I scribbled a ton of stuff for my short story on the train ride home. And I was pleased to meet Marc Aplin of Fantasy Faction, who I didn’t manage to bump into at Fantasycon, and proselytise him into swordfighting, something he has been curious about for some while. He’s promised to teach me how to kick people in the head next time we meet.

Anne Lyle Interview

photoI was fortunate enough to come across the lovely Anne Lyle at Fantasycon this year in Brighton. Anne, whose debut novel is published by Angry Robot early next year, is one of the friendliest authors out there; both in real life and twitterville/the blogosphere, and full of great advice, humour and excellent taste in music! I would like to say that Fantasycon is where this interview took place, but I stuffed up and left my questions and dictaphone at home so we did this electronically instead.

Go crazy and tell us all about The Alchemist of Souls.
“The Alchemist of Souls” is an alternate history fantasy set in London in 1593. The protagonist, Mal Catlyn, is a former soldier turned sword-for-hire who is plucked, almost literally, from the gutter and offered a prestigious position as bodyguard to the soon-to-be-arriving ambassador from the New World. The problem is, the ambassador isn’t human, he’s a skrayling – a member of a fanged, tattooed people who live peacefully alongside the Native Americans – and Mal has reasons of his own to hate and fear these strangers. However Mal’s not the only person with a grudge against the skraylings, and soon he finds himself enmeshed in dark conspiracies and darker magics…

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. There’s also swashbuckling adventure and a generous dollop of cross-dressing romance, as befits a story set in Shakespeare’s day. And some rather earthy language, I have to warn you! Not for Elizabethans the clinical, Latin-derived terms for bodily functions 😉

Who or what was the inspiration behind Mal Catlyn, the lead

cover art

 character of TAOS? Tell us about him.

When I started planning this book, I knew I wanted the male lead to be believably masculine – back in the eighties I read too many fantasy novels (written by women, for women) where the hero was an angsty wimp, and I really hated those characters! And since I loved classic 1950s swashbuckling movies when I was a teenager, what better for a red-blooded hero than for him to be a dashing swordsman?

As for the name, I stole it shamelessly from a real Elizabethan. I was reading a book about spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham and spotted the name Maliverny Catlyn – a spy who had worked for Walsingham in the 1580s – and found it so intriguing, I knew I had to use it. You can find out the full details at my website, where I’ve posted a few non-spoilerish background details on the world and characters.

Debut novels tend to have protagonists the same gender as the author, I notice both you and fellow new author Elspeth Cooper have male leads. Would you say this was dictated by your preference or the story and setting?

I can’t speak for Elspeth, but as for my reasons… I could blame the setting, but really, if I wanted to write a female protagonist, I would have chosen a setting and scenario that allowed that. So really it’s personal preference. I was a tomboy from a very early age and, unlike many little girls, never grew out of it; I’ve spent practically my entire life hanging out mainly with the “opposite” sex, so I find men easier and more comfortable to write than women. I do have a female point-of-view character, but since she’s disguised as a boy for the whole book, I’m not sure she counts!

Medieval Europe has been done to death in fantasy, some might say, is it this notion that drew you to the Elizabethan era with your books or is this a part of history that has always been close to your heart?

A bit of both, really. I was bored with fantasy that eschewed gunpowder for no readily apparent reason, and whilst gunpowder weapons were present in medieval Europe they were limited to cannon on the battlefield. I have always loved the Tudor period and been fascinated by the theatre, so setting my book in Elizabethan England was the perfect opportunity to combine the two.

You submitted your manuscript (presumably to agents first) and then a week later attended Fantasycon where you got your lucky break and engaged in conversation with Marc Gascoigne of Angry Robot, which led to them offering you a book deal – do you think the chance meeting was your only window of opportunity or did you ever hear back from the agencies?

I’m sure it wasn’t my only window of opportunity, but I really liked what Angry Robot were doing with genre fiction, so when my agent asked if I wanted to submit the book elsewhere I said no.

Did you get an agent immediately, once you had received the offer from AR? I imagine that must have been an interesting process!

Yes I did. I had queried the Zeno Agency after I got a “revise and submit” request from AR, because they have an amazing client list, and John Berlyne at Zeno asked for the full manuscript when it was ready. However the offer came back from AR before John had had a chance to read my book, so I emailed him the same evening and asked him if he wanted to negotiate the deal. This is obviously not how it normally works, nor do things usually move so quickly. It was really a case of everything coming together at exactly the right time, which is the real element of luck in the writing game. You have to write a great book, of course, but after that it’s a matter of chance whether its the first person, or the hundredth, that loves your book and wants to publish it.

How has your life changed since becoming a professional author? What are the changes that you least expected?

It hasn’t really changed, to be honest, except that I have to be even more focused on writing than I was before. I’d been working on this book 24/7 since early 2010, to lick it into shape for submission, and now the only difference is that I have someone else’s deadline to work to instead of my own. Oh, and I get to do readings and panels at conventions, which is really cool. A bit scary, too, but definitely cool.

Do you blog about different stuff (excluding news about your book) now that you are published, or has that remained the same?

I did reorganise my blog in late 2010 when I started the submission process, separating out my “writing journal” (which is really only of interest to me and a few writer friends) from more general posts, but since then it hasn’t really changed. I try and write about stuff that other readers of historical fantasy might be interested in: book reviews, favourite movies, developments in the fantasy genre, and so on.

Do you think it is important for an author to create a ‘platform’ as it’s called (I ask this as you are a known technophile)?

I think all writers these days need to get out there on the internet and connect with readers – that’s all “platform” really means. Too many writers think that self-promotion means you have to be all “sell, sell, sell”, but nothing could be further from the truth; people respect genuine engagement, not spamming or brash trumpet-blowing. I’ve had so many people say they’re going to buy or even pre-order my book, just because I’ve been helpful or interesting on a forum (or because my cover art is, frankly, gorgeous!). I’ve recently begun a series of blog posts called “Web Presence 101” that looks at different strategies for writers, so do check it out!

TAOS is to be followed up by two more books. Do you think you will continue with this setting and characters in future novels, or do you have your sights on other eras and people?

Well, the two other books contracted by AR are sequels to TAOS, so you won’t have seen the last of Mal after next April! Whether I write any more books in the Night’s Masque universe after that really depends on how well the first trilogy sells, but either way, I have another project on the backburner at the moment – more fantasy, but not Elizabethan. That’s all I’m saying right now!

In your journey from aspirational to professional author, what would you say is the most important lesson you have learned?

Be careful what you wish for. Seriously. Being a writer of commercial fiction isn’t for dreamers and wannabes, it’s hard work, as hard as starting your own business – and that’s how you have to treat it. I have two jobs now: my day-job as a web developer, and my writing job. Of course I wouldn’t swap it for the world – although if I could write full-time, that would be awesome.

Thanks very much Anne!

Anne Lyle’s debut novel The Alchemist of Souls, book one of the Night’s Masque series, is released on 27th March 2012 for US paperback and ebook, and 5th April 2012 for UK paperback. Its sequel, The Merchant of Dreams, is due to be published Spring 2013.

What now?

As David has already mentioned we have finished the first draft of book one (or maybe books one and two, or perhaps book one and a bit). So for the first time in two years I find myself without the need to write on a daily basis . . . or do I?

Prior to Where Dead Gods Lie Buried I was ninety thousand words deep into the draft of a YA fantasy novel. I now consider this the beginnings of my training, along with a blog of flash fiction that I did for a year prior to that. I abandoned it and started something new (the short that later became WDGLB), with the aim to coming back to it at some point. In all honesty I think one day I will dust it off, strip it down to a few paragraphs and do it properly. That was when I was a pantser, I am still a pantser, but in small, plottable chunks. Hold me closer, tiny pantser . . .

Anyway, to this end, and to pass the time whilst waiting for David to shuffle all the bits and pieces into chapters and cast his copy editor’s eye over the first draft, I thought to try a short story in the same world.

I’m one of these people who needs a kick start to get my engine running, after that I can go with it. I might crash it into a wall, but I’ve resolved to just keep going if that happens again. So I googled one of those plot generators and it gave me a two sentence synopsis – in fact that’s what got me cracking with my original short story.

I’ve started drafting, plotting and sketching it out – I’m just going to have fun with it, keep myself busy. In fact, shortly after I started Matt T Dillon asked me if I was going to consider such a thing, the man’s psychic!

So watch this space, or rather this space. I may have something for you in the near future.

Fantasycon 2011

A few months ago I was dribbling over the Fantasycon 2011 website and wishing I could go, but unfortunately it was during the weekend we had arranged to hold our eldest’s birthday party. Pim caught me sighing with regret then encouraged me to go, just for the Saturday, we’d still be able to get the party sorted.

Delighted, I emailed David, whose wife then emailed me to say that she wanted to get him a ticket too – fantastic, we’d both be going to meet people in the industry, fellow writers trying to get a break like ourselves, and published authors whom we admire.

So for the second time ever, David and I met up

. . .  hang on a minute, you’re probably asking, aren’t you writing a book together?

Yes we are, we met via the blogosphere over the subject of RPGs. The writing and discussing has all taken place over the web – email and Googledocs mainly. Every Friday we have a meeting on the chat function in Googledocs, so when David took the four hour drive down from Hull it was nice to actually have a face to face meeting for a change.

Saturday morning we set off early, the morning mist being blasted off the fields by the burgeoning sun. Friends of mine who live in Brighton kindly let me park by their house and so we were met by a glorious sight of the shimmering sea and streets spreading out before us as we walked down the hill towards the hotel.

I had a whole list of things I forgot, mainly:

Some questions I was going to ask Anne Lyle,

The dictaphone to record the interview,

A list of tweeps I wanted to meet in real life.

At least I remembered the programme, but it didn’t matter too much as we were given goody bags when we arrived with all of that stuff in there. David mentioned feeling nervous and I was ice cool, they’re only human beings after all.

But once inside it was David that was schmoozing, and dragging me over to people, keeping the conversation going when I froze up and bringing up relevant points. Thanks David!

We followed the signs to the Newbie’s area but I couldn’t see that anything was going on so, typically, was magnetically pulled towards the bar. A gin and tonic at ten fifteen and a pint for David settled my nerves a little. Then I saw Anne Lyle and apologised to her for forgetting all my notes and that we would have to interview via email as we had discussed as a back-up plan. This chat turned into an interview as it happens, I wish I could have recorded it! Anne was very friendly and informative and I find both her path to publication and what I have heard about The Alchemist of Souls fascinating.

Lou Morgan had informed me that the Albion is a warren, and when I went to find the loos I realised what she meant. I have a pretty good sense of direction, my husband calls me ‘Maps’, but I got seriously lost once I entered the basement. David and I lost sight of each other for about an hour. I should have had the sense to rummage through my goody bag and find the bleeding map (D&D instincts all abandoned at that point).

In the end I settled down to listen to the tail end of ‘A History of Fantasycon’, panelled by Jo Fletcher, Ramsey Campbell, Stephen Jones and Peter Coleborn. Being my first con ever this was very useful. It turns out this was one of the biggest, with 500 people in attendance. What makes it unique, according to the panel, is that there is no separation between the published authors and other guests, no ‘green room’ where they are corralled away.

When I resurfaced I saw what they meant. David was in the bar (where I had already looked several times) and introduced me to Joe Abercrombie. MD Lachlan appeared soon after and we got into a discussion about swords and fencing – always good.

The bowl of cheerios I’d eaten at seven thirty was rapidly diminishing so we sought out lunch on the pier and were horrified by the prices. A tube of mechanically recovered pig entrails in a sleeve of bread took the edge off for a while before we returned to the Albion.

In the afternoon I went to the hotel next door for a masterclass with Jo Fletcher about the making of a book. It was excellent, a huge reality check, which is a double edged sword (sorry). I learned just how difficult the path to publication is, even when the manuscript has left your hands and is within the publisher’s. We all know it’s hard, but I always imagined that the hurdle was getting the editor to read your manuscript and like it, but even if they do there are several more hoops it must leap through after that. However, what she also taught us was what is really important, what the common silly mistakes are that get hopeful authors rejected. Where and how we should concentrate our efforts on making it the best manuscript we can.

Unfortunately this appointment clashed with Anne’s reading which I had wanted to attend, but David went in my stead and said that he enjoyed it.

We met lots of lovely people, all very friendly and easy to talk to. There were a lot of things for sale that I had to resist with every fibre, it’s been a pretty expensive month.

The last panel we attended was on how to deal with agents and editors. It was very full and very warm  by then, and the subject seemed to have strayed onto what the panellists thought the next big thing would be and the contentious issue of ebooks.

At around six my friends Mat and Helen met us in the bar. This was quite an occassion for me as I hadn’t actually told them that I write, they were under the impression that I was attending some exhibition. So over a conversation with Anne-Mhairi Simpson, David, Stephanie King and myself they came to realise that I was in the process of co-writing a book. Mat and Helen then very kindly took us all to the Lanes for a delicious and inexpensive meal. It was a nice, impromptu gathering of people and a pleasant way to finish the day.

After my friends went home the four of us returned to the hotel for some more chinwags, but by then I was feeling very tired and didn’t want to drive too exhausted so we said our goodbyes. I found more tweeples on the way out and said some quick hellos and farewells, then that was Fantasycon over for a year.

The only regrets are small ones – that I didn’t get to talk to anyone as much as I wanted to, that I was only there for a single day, but at least I was there. It was a great time, I learned so much and made some wonderful friends. I will definitely be attending Fantasycon in Corby next year. It is almost exactly halfway between David and me so it won’t be just one of us burdened with an exhausting journey.