writers

Alt.Fiction 2012

So, Alt.Fiction happened. 

And it was good. No, seriously good.

While some worried about the unfortunate sandwich effect created by Eastercon and the start of the LBF, it didn’t seem to have caused too many problems: there was a great atmosphere and a good attendance (a little too good, in some cases – but more of that later).

I got to Leicester on Friday night, having met up with Will Hill, Tom Pollock and Lizzie Barrett on the way, and we collectively endured the most stressful train journey I think I’ve ever had… (a big “nul points” to the grumpy woman who caused a big fuss about her seat in our carriage) but it was fine. Honestly. Fine.

Friday evening saw a bit of socialising and an impromptu cinema trip, and then it was all about Alt.Fiction.

The 10am SFF non-fiction panel which I was on along with Tom, and Anne Perry of Pornokitsch, had a slight hiccup when our moderator was delayed – but Jared Shurin heroically stepped in with only a few minutes’ warning. It ended up being a very interesting discussion covering everything from the importance of research in fiction (and whether there’s such a thing as too much of it), to reviews and the responsibility of reviewers in how they handle issues like subtext, via steampunk, Jules Verne, hard SF, Werner Herzog and alternate histories.

As an aside, if anyone who was there wants to read the Michael Marshall Smith story I mentioned towards the end, it’s called “The Good Listener”, and you can find it here. There’s also a podcast of it here.

My next panel was “New Writers”, along with Tom Pollock (again. I like panels with him, because he uses big words and says terribly clever insightful things, so as long as he always speaks first I can just nod and sagely say, “Yeah. What Tom said….”) and Emma Newman and Vincent Holland-Keen. We were ably wrangled by Jon Weir, who was fantastic and made us all look like we knew what we were doing. No small feat, in my case.

The panels I went to were interesting: by far and away my favourite was the panel on comics which was as engaging as it was entertaining, and very good indeed. I was particularly impressed by Emma Vieceli – and even more so by her art! Her book is absolutely gorgeous, and although I’ve only just had time to flip through it I’m very much looking forward to reading it properly. You should all go out and buy it immediately.

The genre television panel was slightly frustrating in that it got very caught up in the technical aspects of programming, as opposed to discussion as viewers. I would have liked to see more debate about solid, long-running genre shows like Buffy or BSG or Supernatural or Dark Shadows (particularly the latter, given that Adam Christopher was on the panel) but was very taken with Alasdair Stuart’s ideas about “parachuting” cast members of existing shows into franchised versions in different countries.

Saturday evening involved an absolutely lovely dinner where I laughed so hard I actually cried and had a huge amount of fun, then drinks in the hotel bar, which were just the right level of noisy and silly. Sunday was a quieter day, with people drifting off to panels or towards home with the usual resolutions to do nothing but sleep for a week.

Everyone always says it’s the people who make conventions a good or bad experience, and this one doubly proved that. The whole atmosphere was so easy-going that everyone relaxed. The layout of the venue also meant that everyone was (largely) in the same space – although arguably some of the panels were in the wrong rooms: the smallest room always had more people trying to get in than could, while several of the panels in the larger rooms had relatively few attendees. Name tags would have been nice, too, as would some more volunteers to keep participants organised – but these are minor niggles and easily corrected next time around.

And yes: there will be a next time around. Alt.Fiction 2013 has already been announced; tentatively scheduled for the third weekend in May next year. It’s already in my diary…

Huge thanks, of course, go to everyone involved in organising the weekend: it was a big success, and rightly so.

And thanks to the people who made the weekend so memorable for me – in no particular order: Tom Pollock, Lizzie Barrett, Will Hill, Andrew Reid, Paul Cornell, Tom Hunter, Adam Christopher, Alasdair Stuart, Jon Weir, Nadine Holmes, Tom Fletcher, Anne Lyle, Marie O’Regan, Paul Kane and a lot more people I just know I’ve left out….

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Fantasycon 2011

I’m a little behind on things at the moment (I’m fairly sure I’ve still not got round to rambling on about the House of Fear launch yet….) as it’s been a pretty solid week. But really. Fantasycon. Wow.

This year’s convention, organised by Paul Kane & Marie O’Regan on behalf of the BFS, was held in Brighton, in the same hotel as WHC2010 (an event with the dubious honour of being my first ever convention!), and – ever contrary – Brighton laid on its best and hottest weather of the year. In a packed hotel. With enormous picture windows. And broken air-con. Score!

Minor niggles about the hotel aside (it’s an eccentric place, but the location as a Con hotel couldn’t be better) this was roundly declared the best Fantasycon ever, and the best convention many attendees had ever seen. Beautifully run and with a packed, varied programme spanning all aspects of genre writing and film (including film shows, masterclasses and panels on editorial practice, YA literature and how to scare your readers…) it was an excellent example of a convention put together with the broadest possible tastes in mind. As a result, the convention sold out, with 500 weekend memberships sold, and around 100 additional day memberships for the Saturday. To put that into perspective, that’s a higher attendance than Fantasycon has ever seen – including for the year when Neil Gaiman & Clive Barker were guests.

One particular high-point for me (nerve-wracking as it might have been, and indeed was) was that I got to do my first ever public reading from “Blood & Feathers”. The fact I was doing this in Brighton – where I now live, of course – and in the very same building that saw me walk in 18 months ago without the faintest idea what I was doing; in front of a surprising number of people, many of whom I’ve come to see as family… it was very, very special. I’m immensely grateful to everyone who came – and only partly because they didn’t throw things – and asked questions which were far, far too clever for me…!

I went to a couple of other readings, too: notably by Tom Pollock (whose book I’m so excited about), Adam Christopher (whose book I’ve already read… and am still excited about!) and Helen Callaghan‘s (which left me basically wanting to find myself a man who can rip a stiletto apart). I really do wish I’d been able to make it to Anne Lyle and Gaie Sebold‘s readings, but just couldn’t get there.

The YA panel was interesting – and, I think, the only panel I made it to, thanks to all manner of scheduling clashes. After a lively debate about what’s appropriate in a YA book, and the challenges of writing for a teenage audience – and the dangers therein (a point raised by Sarah Pinborough, who talked about having seen some YA readers “stick” there and not progress further) the panel wound up wondering what YA really was. It was a good panel, and it was great to see serious programming time given over to discussing YA.

I was proud to see how packed the Solaris Books event & signing was… mind you: free books, free wine… at Fantasycon, this is always going to guarantee a full house. Even better, they made the fatal mistake of putting me in charge of the bar for a while….. That was a good afternoon.

It’s particularly worth noting, I think, that there were a lot of first-time attendees there: newbies not only to Fantasycon and the BFS but to conventions in general. Hopefully, like me at my first one, they liked what they saw enough to keep coming back. With the exception of the disco. I could totally understand if that made them run like their lives depended on it in the opposite direction. I know. I was there. I’ll be sending the therapy bills to all involved.

For me, though, the convention was – as ever – about the people. I got to spend time with old friends, and to make new ones. Fantasycon is, in my experience, a very relaxed and sociable place – too sociable, maybe, as there were at least five people I would have liked to spend more time with (or indeed, any time at all with!). And let’s not forget the unique double-act that Bella Pagan and I developed on the Saturday night: standing around, looking similar…

Spot the difference...

 

Like all these things, it’s the people who make it. So enormous thanks to Paul, Marie and all the team who organised a convention we’ll all be talking about for years to come – for all the right reasons. And thanks to everyone who made my convention so much fun: in no particular order….

Will Hill, Rob Shearman, Vinny Chong, Jenni Hill, Jon Oliver, Mike Molcher (chopstick ninja!), Scott Andrews, Tom Pollock, Lizzie Barrett, Anne Lyle, Adam Christopher, Michelle Howe, Paul & Nadine Holmes, Mike Shevdon, Sarah Pinborough, Guy Adams, Rio Youers, Gary & Emily McMahon, Joseph D’Lacey, Adele Wearing, Amanda Rutter… and so many more people I’ve lost track of.

Thank you, FCon2011. You *rocked*.