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.