Thinking about Thought Bubble.



So, the family and I popped across to Leeds at the weekend for Thought Bubble. Actually, that’s not entirely true. We went across for a small section of Thought Bubble, which happened to be the first day of the convention (Saturday) but the second-to-last day of the festival entire.

I really, really like it. I’m not a huge comics fan – I very rarely read them, either in digital or print form – but I love fantasy art. Even if I was indifferent to that, though, Thought Bubble would be worth a visit. I see some of my friends there, for a start, and it’s always nice to see people in meatspace every so often. This year was a bumper crop for conversations, and I spent a lot of time with the ever-excellent Alasdair Stuart and the talented-and-outright-bonkers Jenny Gyllblad. I also met new people! I met an awesome English graduate called Lorna who was collaborating with her brother on a Star Wars inspired comic (with a great pitch) and chanced across someone working on their NaNo novel – a book where every chapter correlates to each of the major arcana in a Tarot deck.

I also got to see so much stuff. The convention is very different to every SFF convention I’ve been to as the major attraction of the event is the dealer’s room. Rooms. In fact, the vast majority of the convention is three massive rooms, all crammed full of dealer tables. The closest comparison I have for it is Woolfest, really. Table after table after table of people ready to talk in a genuine and interesting way about their work (and hopefully sell it at the same time). Even the big names are sat down at tables, which overcomes the issue of access – how do you go up and talk to one of your heroes at a convention? Easy! Just get in the line. Alternatively, come back at the end of the day and say howdy – the 30-min queue for Olly Moss had evaporated by four in the afternoon, and even Kelly Sue DeConnick only had four or five people waiting.

It’s a really young convention, too. Cosplayers? Tons of ’em. Kids that I have taught? A couple (that was weird). Roller Derby! Colouring In! Space to sit down!

I don’t know what the take-home message from all this is, because I don’t organise conventions or sell books/art/knitting. I can’t say for sure if much of it – if any – would translate to the SFF book world, much in the same way that knitting shows do not. A designer like Ysolda Teague can rock up at a relatively small knitting show and sell every single one of her 75 page, self-published books for £20 a pop (with almost every buyer paying a little extra on top for a photo with her)*, but that kind of success just doesn’t seem to have an analogue in the print world. I think it would be really interesting to see some kind of breakdown from the artists themselves regarding what sells and what doesn’t at this kind of event,** but I’m guessing that anyone lugging boxes to a convention is going to stay tight-lipped about that sort of thing. Inasmuch as art isn’t a competition, sales definitely are.

But yeah. Thought Bubble. Great con, as it has been for the past few years. Yet again, I was unable to go to the party which is (apparently) one of the great highlights. Maybe next year.

*not their own photos, btw – they had a printer set up to print out the picture taken so it could be stuck in the book next to her signature.

**I know there’s a whole world of theorycraft around how to set up dealer tables – from optimum position in the room to creating a display that draws in and sells to the passerby.

Edge Lit 2: Baby’s Day Out

If I was to sum up Edge Lit 2 in a picture, it would be this one:



You might question the wisdom of taking a five and a half week old baby to a convention, especially on a day when it was already 20 degrees at seven in the morning. Certainly I was questioning the wisdom myself, as we screamed and gibbered our way down the M1, stopping at every service station we saw. There were changes. There were feeds. There was a lot of walking up and down with her until she calmed down enough to strap her back into the Car Seat of Ultimate Despair (And Vibrato Wailing ). Just past the halfway point Lisa said, “maybe we should have stayed at home.”

I must admit, the thought had also crossed my mind.

But there was a higher purpose to it all. With a family holiday looming, we’d never gone any farther than York with her and we needed to know how bad it was going to be to drive her for several hours, even without a plane journey on the far side of it.

It was slightly stressful.

So we arrived at Edge Lit feeling wary about she would handle it. Naturally, she slept through the entire day. The entire day. I didn’t even have to play dance music on my phone and jump around with her until she passed out.* There was a brief bit of crying during the one panel we managed to attend (SO WARM) but aside from that – out for the count. This didn’t stop me from worrying about her for the entire time.

Kim Lakin-Smith said much the same thing to me at Eastercon. If you bring your kids, all you can really focus on is are they okay? Are they hungry? Bored? Too hot? Not hot enough? It was really, really nice to see people (and a couple of new ones!) but I have to apologise to almost all of them for being weird and  because I spent the entire day feeling fractured and on edge.

Also, it was very, very warm. Someone at the con must have sat an ant farm on a windowsill in their childhood because the heat and glare through the Quad’s lovely glass facade felt like karmic payback being dished out. I think the one time my brain actually started coping normally was when we went for lunch in a restaurant so air conditioned it felt arctic by comparison.

But still, all that aside, it was a great event. I caught up with some lovely friends, saw my agent-bro Jennifer rock her first panel**, got some books, got to sign a book (which I was so excited about I added a little doodle as well), and saw the launch of both Noir Carnival and Spacewitch. As with last year, I had to leave early, which was a shame. The events in the Quad have always proven to be good fun, and I look forward to going back.


*the standard 2 am tactic.

**two thoughts on that panel: 1) what editors and agents look for – you get some interesting specificity off Twitter on this. Not long ago there was a pitch thing on Twitter where agents could participate by saying what they wanted to see in their inbox. One that caught my eye was the incredibly narrow spec, “a modern version of Tam Lin”. It  felt like a callback to the Harper Voyager open call announcing their first deal…which was for a modern fantasy based on Tam Lin and made me wonder – was the agent being reactive to that sale (even if it was unconsciously done) or had the idea formed parallel but separate to that sale? 2) as a general point to other con attendees – if your question involves recounting the plot of your novel, then save it for the bar. Seriously.***

***usually I’m willing to give people the benefit of the doubt when they ramble because I’d be a terrible hypocrite otherwise, but that room was very, very warm.

Thought Bubble 2012

Last year, I went to Thought Bubble for the first time. I’m not a massive comics person, really. I think the most regular comic event in my childhood was the Oor Wullie and The Broons annuals and in spite of the regular endorsement of my friends I could never quite settle into the serial format. In fact, there’s only one comic book arc that I have read in its entirety, and that is Mr Hero, The Newmatic Man. 

Still, Leeds was close by, and as the number and quality of webcomics has increased over the years, I’ve found myself making more time for comics and cool art. Plus, genre is a small place and you never quite know who you are going to run into. I met the rather excellent Alasdair Stuart in the flesh at the last Thought Bubble, which by itself made the trip to Leeds worth it. I also picked up some lovely prints, some of which I still haven’t found frames for, and generally had a very good time.

Fast forward to 2012, and when Thought Bubble rolled round I decided that it would be worth going. That decided, I discovered that work (or lack thereof) had left me fairly skint, so I shelved the idea. In the end, my brother and his wife stepped in and sent me the money for a ticket and rail costs, and I was able to go again.

The first thing you notice about the con is how young it is. Their enthusiastic embrace of the cosplay community means that the average age is a lot lower than I’ve seen at the other UK cons I attend. I don’t know how this translates into business for the stalls around the show, but I did see a lot of the cosplayers clutching bags of stuff, and there seemed to be a much swifter trade in things like badges and accessories than I would have expected. The upshot is, though, that they were welcome, and they were having a great time. Granted, I did roll my eyes when someone started putting a Gangnam Style parody video together, but that was about as cynical as I managed to get.

Jennie Gyllblad. Please note, these are not actually her feathers. It’s just a fascinator. Again – not a bird-person

I spent a lot of time with the Clockwork Watch gang. I’ve known Jennie Gyllblad for a while from a SFF forum and Twitter, and had her do a commission for me earlier in the year. She’s really lovely and enthusiastic, terrifyingly energetic, and always fun to talk to. Also she makes great art! Buy her stuff. She introduced me to Serena Obhrai, who is collaborating with her on a comic that should be coming out in 2013, Elysia, and Yomi, the relentlessly charming collaborator on the Clockwork Watch who was sporting the waistcoat of the event. It was also good catching up with Corey “Every Molecule in the Universe will Meet Eventually” Brotherson, who I would have talked to longer but he seemed to vanished without trace around two, and meeting Peter Thompson, who seemed to have the same idea as me (hanging around the Clockwork Watch stand stealing chocolates).

I met Kate Ashwin and Robin Pierce, who write Widdershins and Curia Regis respectively (see links), and they were lovely to meet and talk to. Both write historical adventure stories set in the 19th (Widdershins) and 18th (Curia Regis) centuries and I’ll be catching up on their stories so far online.

I also saw Emma Vieceli, who I met at Alt.Fiction earlier in the year, and picked up a copy of Dragon Heir: Reborn (buy stuff). I didn’t have much money this year, but I thought it was a good investment. Her art is amazing – I was watching her draw as she was talking to people, selling books, etc; considering she was being constantly interrupted it was mind-bogglingly clean and precise – and the Dragon Heir book looks great. Lisa doesn’t read as much manga as she used to, but she seemed pleased with it as well.

Another thing I bought was Forgotten Muse, by Tanya Roberts. She’s worked on the Star Wars comics and has a lovely art style. I also commissioned a sketch from her, a slightly cheeky request for a sketch of the main character from my own work-in-progress – I’ve been using a folder full of art from the Gunslinger Born as inspiration while I write, but it’s proving to be a bit darker than what I’m writing. I thought it’d be interesting to give a very vague description of Symphony and then see what an artist would come up with. Thankfully she didn’t think it was cheeky in the slightest.

Sadly, I couldn’t stick around for the evening do or today’s events (including the launch of Adam Christopher’s first comic), but I thoroughly enjoyed what I did see. It’s a really fun event, with lots of things to see, an insane number of pretty shinies to buy, and everyone seems to be having a great time. One to mark in the calendar for next year.

Alt.Fiction 2012

I have a special place in my heart for Alt.Fiction. It was the first con I ever went to when I decided that I was a) sick to the back teeth of simply walking into bookshops and trying to psychically divine what books I should buy and b) sorely confused about what the hell I was doing with regards to the desire to write things and have people other than my brother read them.

It was very hard going, that first con. I don’t think I talked to a single soul for the first three hours after arrival until I finally recognised someone from an internet forum and then trailed in her very understanding wake for the rest of the event.* I did, as hard as it was to get started, enjoy myself immensely and resolved to keep coming along to events like it.

My con experience had changed somewhat in the two years since.

I think Alt.Fiction has been the first con I’ve been to where I have managed to miss every single panel. I did make a determined effort to attend the New Writer’s panel, but due to space issues it was not to be. Other than that, almost every single moment of my weekend was spent talking to people and having a great time doing it. This is not a criticism of the con and the content of the programme; it just turns out that’s the kind of person I am. I perpetually found myself either catching up with people I knew, getting to know better people I had kind of met before, and meeting entirely new people altogether. Since it’s a fairly small convention and a fairly small space, the event and the venue were perfect for doing just that.

I made a resolution a while back to deliberately not talk about my own writing at cons, if only to avoid the “please don’t pitch at me” look that crosses the faces of other con-goers (particularly industry professionals), although I’m now beginning to think that it may need some revision. One of the high points of my convention was being introduced to Ken MacLeod, who I am an enormous fan of and was struggling to think of things to say to for fear of going “you know what, I read Learning the World so many times that the book fell to bits and I had to buy another copy”. Having overheard me talking to Anne Lyle about writing, he asked what I was working on. Lacking anyone else nearby to high five about this, I found myself blathering through the world concept for Gunslinger Symphony without ever getting to the point of the story. Way to go, I thought, but no damage seemed done.  I think there’s something exciting enough about the words “frontier scientist” that it can survive two minutes of ill-thought blather.

I would like to say I improved after that, but really I didn’t. Anyone who asked about my writing rode out the ensuing blast of interesting but not entirely necessary guff about science communications on a wave of their own patience and goodwill towards me. It occurred to me later I should really take a leaf out of Tom Pollock’s book – not literally, of course – as he was able to talk in a very engaging, passionate, and direct way about his book (and the one after) that made me a) want to read it immediately and b) grind my teeth into dust out of sheer envy. Ironically, he did go on to talk about the Long Price Quartet, and asked if I knew the feeling you get when you read or talk to another author and their ideas just make you feel insanely inadequate and jealous at the same time. “It’s not just you,” I said.

I took part in a lunchtime flash fiction reading, which I thought went rather well. I came up with the title back at the SFX Weekender, where I suggested to Lou Morgan that three minutes is not enough time to tell a full story, and that the build of tension could be faked by frontloading a scene with a squick-inducing title that doesn’t pay off until the very, very end. Thus, Mister Ipkiss and the monkey who poops pomegranates, was born – a tale in which everyone is waiting with bated breath for the moment when a primate shits fruit. It worked, kind of, and I was glad I chose it over the other, more meta effort that was a bank robbery told in real time called, unsurprisingly, Three-minute bank job blues.**

Adele and the rest of the team behind the convention deserve massive congratulations for the event. I think they pulled off pretty much exactly the right mixture of space to event to attendance that meant as an attendee I always felt busy and never felt as though I was missing out. I spent the weekend with some incredibly enthusiastic and interesting people, and have come away from it feeling charged up and even more excited about the world of SF/F than ever before.***

I would love to mention people specifically, but I just can’t. I’d be at this keyboard until Wednesday. Please, go to my twitter feed @mygoditsraining, go into my “following” tab and just start following people. They are all there, they are all genuine, excellent people, they are all worth talking to and getting to know and if you ever find yourself at a table with one or more of them you will never be disappointed in the conversation.


*There is a Swedish phrase for people like this. It translates to “goldfish poop”. Apt, if you’ve ever seen a goldfish poop.

**I blame Cowboy Bebop for the repeated occurrence of (NOUN) (MUSICAL TERM) titles.

***Although after two late, late nights on the trot I now have a sinus headache that has put me on the couch with a duvet and the curtains drawn. Enthusiasm has its limits.

SFX Weekender 3 write-up: Mega-edition

I begin with a caveat. Should I forget at some point to mention someone who I met, or indeed had a long conversation with and have temporarily forgotten, I apologise. I did toy with the brief notion of agonising over a list before I started writing this but decided against it. Let the chips fall where they may and if I do miss someone they are welcome to snub me at a future event by way of reparation.

So. The SFX Weekender was held in Prestatyn, in North Wales. I was labouring under the false misapprehension that I had never been to Wales before, which got me all excited until I remembered that Llanberis isn’t an especially English name and I’ve been there climbing and walking quite a few times in my misspent youth.

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Alt.Ficion, Mexico’s Premier SF/F convention

Last year, I decided that I was fed up – sick to the back teeth – of not actually knowing anyone else who writes (or tries to write) genre fiction, or even reads genre fiction.  To that end, I swallowed my terrible nervousness at the prospect of introducing myself to people and having nothing to say after that point and signed up to go to Alt.Fiction.

In my mind, it could have gone either way. What I didn’t count on was the community being completely receptive to the prospect of people who just rock up and say “hi”.  When I went to NewCon later in the year, I knew a few people by name and more by sight, and when I signed up for Eastercon, I was quite safe in the knowledge that there would be no shortage of conversation.

So one year on I signed up for Alt.Fiction again, except this time I was actually going with the expectation of knowing people there.

Warning: picture spam incoming.

Continue reading “Alt.Ficion, Mexico’s Premier SF/F convention”