Category Archives: Cons

The David Gemmell Legend Awards 2012 and The Noble Art of the Sword Exhibition at The Wallace Collection – a sublime weekend

A while ago I emailed the Gemmells in the vain hope of winning a ticket, and lo and behold one appeared in the post, a full three days before the event. Cue much panicking about frocks mingled with excitement and anticipation. I would go to the ball.

With the kids just about sorted and left to grandparents I dashed off to London.  After carefully teasing my hair into place I now found myself in a howling gale with mascara running down my cheeks and having to change into my heels, superman stylee, in a phonebox. Being a lonestar at events such as these is a bit daunting to say the least, but the first people I met outside were the lovely Michaela and Stephen Deas who were very warm and friendly, as well as Juliet McKenna and her son.

Once inside I was pleased to meet Anne Lyle, as well as Elspeth Cooper and Suzanne McLeod. Everyone was terrifically turned out, as you would expect, and after a round of bucks fizz we were summoned to the theatre for the awards ceremony.

It began with a reading from Waylander by David Gemmell. Now I will make a confession: I’ve only read Legend, and only skim-read the second half. In principle I appreciate the symbology of Dros Delnoch, the ancient warrior Druss, the flawed Regnak and the thirty warrior monks ready to die in battle, but the story didn’t seem to cut as deep as I expected it to. I think I appreciate books more when I discover them ‘blind’, without any expectation. And that is probably why I enjoyed this passage that was read out. It seemed to strike more chords than Legend did, be a little more grown up. And I will definitely be seeking it out.

There was then an auction, with some terrific lots up for grabs: original artworks, framed prints, rare editions and even 10,000 words worth of editing by Gillian Redfearn of Gollancz. Unfortunately there was a leakage online earlier in the day so that the winners were not a complete surprise to all when they were announced. I managed to avoid it and the results were:

Ravenheart Award (Best Cover Art)
Raymond Swanland – Blood of Aenarion
Morningstar Award (Best Debut)
Helen Lowe – Heir of Night
Legend Award (Best Fantasy Novel)
Patrick Rothfuss – The Wiseman’s Fear

Congratulations to all of the winners.  I was pleased that I had read so many of the books in the shortlist, including the Legend Award winner!

I chatted with some awesome people. Some of whom I have met before at cons, others who I only know as an online presence. Lou Abercrombie, (a brilliant photographer, as well as Mrs Joe) and Sarah Pinborough were great fun, Simon Spanton of Gollancz, Marc Aplin of Fantasy Faction, and Del and Kim Laikin-Smith were lovely to talk to as well. Of course, being the Gemmell Awards, there were some sharp and pointy things to look at – an opportunity I didn’t miss. I got to touch, but not hold Snaga, Druss’s two-headed axe, but I did get to hold one of Raven Armoury’s (providers of the weapons and weapon-shaped awards) scimitars. This also gave me an opportunity to explain the bruises.

It all passed by too quickly, and before I knew it they were chucking us out. After much searching I found a bus that took me to the Hobgoblin in Islington, where I met some great friends from way back and partied like it was 1998. At three I managed to get to sleep at my buddy’s house, then at eight she was wafting bacon and coffee at me, reminding me I had to be at the Wallace Museum at ten. Luckily, four years of sleep deprivation have prepared me well for such situations.

This was my first time at the Wallace Museum and I have heard so much about it from all my HEMA buddies. We’d signed up for a study day exploring the new exhibition – The Noble Art of the Sword: Fashion and Fencing in Renaissance Europe. Just the building itself was spectacular in its decor and scale, I was expecting a large house, but this was breathtakingly huge. I met Pim and a few friends from other fencing schools and after coffee and a good chat we had a glance at the exhibition.

It was stunning. The first thing that greets you is a period sword and buckler with the i.33 manuscript just below it (on loan from the Royal Armouries, Leeds), followed by sword after sword, each more impressive than the last, each one so perfect it looks as if it were forged only the day before, rather than centuries ago. And I have to say that Snaga and the like may be fun, but can’t quite compare to say . . . this.

 . . . or this

There were plenty of manuals of the period in there too, which Pim was very interested in, of course. On the floor outside was a life-sized blow-up of Thibault’s circle, showing all the lines and angles of the sword, the placements of the feet. In the centre of this lies a man, similar to Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man, with his body divided up into layers and labeled – presumably all the places you can stab him.

Still quivering with excitement from all of this we entered the lecture hall where we listened to a fascinating talk from Curator of Arms and Armour Tobias Capwell on the cultural and social aspects of sword-wearing and why it was so important in the renaissance period, followed by Joshua Pendragon on the history of the de Walden collection – a treasure trove of historical fencing manuals discovered hidden for years in a barn.

After lunch we had a quick glance at the Armouries, a mere fraction of the Wallace Collection itself. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop (although the sweets are still in jars and can’t be touched), so many beautiful and fascinating objects, and not enough time to view them all. I encourage anyone to go there, even if swords and armour aren’t your thing, the place itself is a work of art, and it is crammed with antique furniture and paintings – the Laughing Cavalier to name but one.

The afternoon’s talks were an exploration of the differences between military and civilian weapons, a forensical look at the weapons and their manufacture and a metallurgical talk on blade construction throughout the centuries, where many myths were shattered. Intriguing subjects,  and a staggering amount of information to think about. I took notes.

Everyone, including the museum staff, convened in a nearby pub. It was great to chat to friends I haven’t seen in a good long while and make new ones. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay out as we had to come back to the family, but it was a brilliant two days. A concentration of sheer awesomeness.

Altfiction 2012

Hot on the heels of last weekend’s Eastercon I woke at dawn with my tin of cakes and made my way to Leicester. Gorgeous place, beautiful buildings, I wish I’d had more time to take it all in. This was my first Altfiction and it’s significantly more about the craft and business of writing compared to Eastercon, which focused more on fandom. Nevertheless there were plenty of reviewers and readers, as well as writers, who were all enjoying themselves thoroughly as far as I could tell. There was cake, and there was possibly the best fudge I have ever tasted. Everyone was very friendly, warm and welcoming. Even better still, the bar was very reasonably priced.

I began at Mark Chadbourn’s (non) workshop in which he spoke about the business of writing. This was fascinating, positive and really encouraging. It focused on writing as a profession rather than an art, and went into detail about the various ways one can make a proper living from their skills.

Next I went to the New Writers’ panel, chaired by Jon Weir of Gollancz. The authors were Emma Newman, Vincent Holland-Keen, Tom Pollock and Lou Morgan. It seems that most people start their writing career in very similar ways – the imaginative, geeky kid at school that likes to entertain their classmates with stories, for example. But the path to publication varies wildly. Some go the traditional submit/agent/publisher route but there are many serendipitous events and uncanny ways in which things come together. That’s not to deny that there are many years of hard work involved in getting to that stage, but it’s always inspiring and fascinating to hear these stories.

Sunday was more leisurely. There was a fascinating discussion between Kate Laity and Graham Joyce about the Extremely Dangerous Fairy Folk, and their cultural history. I could have listened to it all day.

Straight after was a panel on diversity chaired by Mark Charan Newton with Anne Lyle, Sarah Cawkwell and Adrian Tchaikovsky. Gender parity is a hot topic in SFF at the moment, and it came up again at Eastercon, albeit in a more positive light. I was quite relieved to find that this discussion focused on representation of LGBT and ethnic minorities (or majorities as the case may be). It did touch on the subject of gender, and the dreaded words “As a woman . . .” came out. Puh-lease can we focus on people as writers and not genders?

I thought the panel handled the issues well. I think it is true that fictional worlds in fantasy, secondary worlds especially, must obey their own logic. If we seek to mirror or show an alternate world to ours we often replicate a vast majority of what is or was real, and if we are going to be truthful we need to acknowledge that we live in a world and society filled with many different types of people, who all deserve representation.

The social time was wonderful, the venue is perfect for such an event. I met some fantastic people who I’d only ever tweeted or read about before. It was a very warm and welcoming atmosphere. People often describe the SFF community as being like a ‘family’, and I definitely felt that this weekend.

Thanks to: @RenWarom @Erik_Lundqvist @KTScribbles @FionaSutton3 @ctjhill @hagelrat @mygoditsraining @PabloCheesecake  Adrian Tchiakovsky @MadNad @patkelleher @ClarkeAward @Paul_Cornell @AnneLyle @LouMorgan @tompollock @kaitharshayr @AMhairiSimpson @MarkChadbourn @mariaAsmith and plenty more for a sublime two days.

Eastercon Olympus 2012

My third con ever, and my first Eastercon it was by all accounts its most successful year. No doubt the main reason for that being the main GoH George RR Martin, who featured prevalently in proceedings. This is the first year they have actually sold out of tickets. I felt privileged to be at the 63rd British National Science Fiction Convention. It was held at Heathrow Radisson Hotel, a building someone described as built by an architect unfamiliar with euclidean geometry, and composed entirely of gleaming marble, glass and wood panelling. Confusing as it was, it was pretty luxurious, with a price tag to match (£9.45 for a gin and tonic), and some very strange artwork in the atrium bar.

Unfortunately I was only able to make Sunday but it felt good to arrive when the party was already in full swing, so to speak. The first panel I attended was ‘Promoting Yourself Online’. It was chaired by Danie Ware of Forbidden Planet (as well as author of debut novel Ecko Rising, a hotly anticipated genre mash-up coming out later this year), and the panellists were Elspeth Cooper (Author of the Wild Hunt Series), Paul Cornell, Tom Hunter (of the Clarke awards) and Simon Spanton of Gollancz.

Danie began by commenting on the early days of Twitter, when just a few souls used it and thought themselves very clever, before it exploded in size on an unimaginable scale. Since that growth the importance of Twitter (and to be honest, it was Twitter that the talk focused on) has increased to the extent that, as Danie pointed out, a top-selling author who isn’t on twitter will attract fewer customers to a signing than a newer kid on the block who is actively tweeting.

The panel reflected on what Twitter should and should not be about. There was overwhelming agreement that it should not be the place to push your books, chat about mundane, irrelevant things, nor overshare personal information. They agreed that to promote yourself you do so by helping other people, and by being yourself. Simon Spanton commented on the way that it enables the writer and reader to really get to know one another, and how this can only be a good thing.

Next on my schedule (all worked out by a cunning app available on the Olympus website called Guidebook) was the GRRM interview. This was a fascinating talk, and in the hour and a half that I sat there (it really didn’t seem that long) George described his path to success, the pitfalls of writing and television work, some humorous anecdotes about filming the pilot of the hugely successful television series A Game of Thrones and some genuine nuggets of wisdom for all the aspiring writers in the audience. What resonated with me was his comment on Tolkien (he has been dubbed the American Tolkien, which I don’t think is entirely fair to either man). He said that we are all (fantasy writers) in the man’s shadow, and that it is a common error of the newbie author to spend vast amounts of time worldbuilding, when they should be concentrating on the story and the characters. Tolkien was not primarily a writer, he was a linguist and an Oxford Don. He was drawn to creating languages and cultures at a level far deeper than most people go. George talked of the iceberg of worldbuilding beneath the Lord of the Rings books, the portion that we see above the surface. Our stories, he said, should be akin to ice rafts, it’s not worth fleshing out and wasting time on stuff that nobody is going to read. A language student wrote to him and asked about the Valyrian tongue, to which he replied ‘I’ve written seven words in Valyrian, when I need an eighth I’ll make one up’.

It was a surreal feeling seeing George among the attendees, milling happily without any pretension. I did get a bit of a silly fangirl moment when I asked him for his autograph and could think of nothing to say other than ‘I enjoyed the talk’. I don’t know if it was his beard and bearing but I suddenly felt like a kid brought into Santa’s grotto and overcome by awe.

The dealer room was very large and constantly busy. At the Angry Robot table I was disappointed (and yet pleased) to see that Anne Lyle’s The Alchemist of Souls had completely sold out. I got a copy of Adam Christopher’s Empire State which he kindly signed for me after his gripping first chapter reading of Seven Wonders. I will definitely be buying that book.

Something that pleased me about being at Eastercon was the broad spectrum of attendees, and according to the reports, the near equal gender parity among them. I also noticed this on the panels and it was refreshing to see a lot of women leading the discussions (this in wake of the seemingly unequal gender balance at the recent SFX Weekender). I was disappointed to miss the panel on minority representation in fandom, but I hope in the future we will see an even greater diversity in the SFF crowd at cons.

There was only one low point which I will briefly touch on, the thirty eight minute preamble to the BSFA awards. I was brought to mind of the panel on Promoting Yourself Online when smartphones all around me glowed beneath the faces of the audience, a furious storm of reaction unfolding on my twitter feed. Despite the irrelevant, confusing and at one point offensive nature of this skit, I was completely baffled by the amount of time spent on it compared to the actual prize giving itself, which was over in something like ten minutes. One of the winners was Christopher Priest, who ironically lambasted the Clarke Awards recently for its shortlist (of which he was not a member). His one liner about the quality of the award itself was far funnier than anything in the previous ‘entertainment’.

As well as the panels, readings, stalls and goodybags, what cons are really about are the people. It was such a pleasure to meet people in the flesh who I have read about and tweeted to over the last few months. I caught up with old friends, made some new ones and I would liken to experience to a reunion of the best kind. There were no boundaries or barriers: between ability, race, generation, gender, writer or reader.

Next week: Alt.Fiction!

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.

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.