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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.

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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!

The year to come

New year’s eve is a time for reflection, so here’s my little run down of what has happened this year:

Achievements

Completed a first draft of a novel

Something my cowriter and I are very proud of, and still amazed by. The last few months have been a keen learning experience and we continue to hammer the material into shape.

Completed a short story draft

Something I did in a hurry that I found immensely pleasurable. This too is currently subject to editing and rewriting.

Received my first rejections

This might not strike as an achievement, but for me it shows that at least I got as far as submission. Again it was a learning point and I never regard a single word as wasted, it all leads to something.

Entered a rapier tournament

When the opportunity arose and I was asked I faced my doubt and threw myself into it. I thank my instructors for giving me a new way of considering just about any challenging situation – to just face the moment and disregard what has happened and what is to come.

Attended two literary conventions

I decided it was time to serious-up about writing and the social network that surrounds it. Fantasycon and Bristolcon were both fun and educational  – far more than I expected them to be.

Attended two HEMA conventions

As I progress in this martial art I find new ways to grow and develop, and have realised what a huge world of learning and experience there is to be had out there. Fightcamp and Rapier were highlights of 2011.

Completed my practical (five fights) and written (a translation) elements for my Laureando (swordfighting) assessment

I was honoured to be considered ready to take this, and have yet to hear my results, so fingers crossed I have ‘levelled up’ as a fighter.

Bought two swords and a dagger

Okay, this is a bit more than just retail therapy, but I can think of few things more pleasurable than buying weapons. For me it is a physical affirmation of how seriously I wish to take my studies.

Helped to edit two translations

I would expand on this but . . . we don’t talk about fightclub.

Entered twitter, WordPress and the world of social networking

I have two very close friends in my writers group, as well as my coauthor, but twitter has brought me into a world of people with similar interests, where I have made some good friends. So much so that a few of us are planning our own little ‘con’ in Spring.

Goals

Complete editing on the novel and submit to agents

I am confident that we can achieve this. The progress is going well, we are both very happy with what we have achieved so far, and we have a plan 🙂

Submit and become published in an anthology

I was kindly asked if I would like to submit to an upcoming anthology. This was the short story mentioned above. I just hope that it meets requirements. And even if it doesn’t, I had good fun working on it.

Enter Rapier 2012, Swordfish and Fightcamp tournaments

Taking part in Rapier 2011 did great work for my confidence, and as one of only two women taking part I’m fairly sure it gave confidence to my fellow swordswomen to take part in next year’s competitions. Swordfighting is largely a boy’s club, but I have faith that good technique, if I can learn and apply it, will serve me well even against the most strong and brutal opponent.

Achieve Laureando status

I should find out how I fared in the next couple of weeks. If I didn’t pass then I’ll make sure I do next time.

Get fitter

Like most people over the winter season the food has not been kind to my waistline. With more opportunities to spar I hope to improve my overall fitness and achieve better movement.

Write every single day

Until the first draft was completed this went without saying. Since then my focus has been on editing, and over Xmas I have found myself less and less available to commit time to it. I know I can do it, so there’s no excuse really.

Read more books, especially non-fiction

Joining Goodreads has helped, and it’s shown me my reading pattern: I tend to have an audiobook, at least one paper book and an ebook on the go at any one time. There are so many great fantasy novels out there that I want to read – classics as well as debut authors’ work that came out in the last year, but I keep meaning to read beyond my genre, get into scifi, for example. Also there are plenty of non-fiction books full of inspiration for a fantasy author, history ones in particular.

Help other people to achieve their goals, whether it’s writing, swordfighting or anything else that I can assist with.

One of the great things about twitter is that you can learn from other people’s knowledge and experience. On more than one occasion I have been able to offer mine. I’ve critiqued, offered advice about lessons, given feedback, searched for information on a topic. I am deeply grateful to those who have taught me about blogging, writing and publishing as well.

Put our regular content

I don’t want this to be a blog full of random waffle to keep myself at the top of searches, I want it to be engaging and useful. I owe it to those of you who read it.

I wish you all a successful and happy 2012. What are your plans for the year to come?