You know how I’ve always longed to see the fair city of Padua.

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So, it’s been a busy few weeks. The new novel is coming along (slowly), I finished a handful of short stories (one of which was accepted the same day I sent it off – woo!), and we have had both friends and family staying over to visit. I’ve been working every day I can to save money for the summer (helped by a timely tax rebate) and aside from a few choice cuts from the Steam sale we’ve been pretty good at controlling our money.

Cross fingers, yo.

Meanwhile, I was thinking of all the stories that I’ve written that haven’t really ended up anywhere. Either they’ve vanished into the ether as single ‘blog posts, or they have just never found the right home to go to. Rather than make a new page here, I decided to set up a Wattpad account and start uploading them there. So far there are only five stories – three Halloween shorts and two previously available only as audio files – but I’ve got a reasonable stack to pile on there eventually.

You can find them all at this link. I did think about trying a bit harder with the covers, but honestly I probably couldn’t do much better without spending a lot of time hunting down fonts.

In other news (talk about burying the lede), I won’t be making it to any events this year, save perhaps for Thought Bubble. The whole kidney failure thing has seriously messed with any hope of attending what looks like one of the most event-packed summers in UK genre memory. That two-week stretch between 9Worlds, Fantasy in the Court, the Gollancz Festival, and Loncon 3 is going to be insane and I’ll be very sad to miss it. I hope you all have a great – and safe – time.

You’re going to have to talk to people, but that’s okay. Everyone else has to, too.

HIPPO

 

Apologies if this post is a bit UK-centric, but ~95% of my ‘blog traffic is UK-based so I can’t imagine there are going to be a flood of angry comments following this going up.

So here’s what I’ve been thinking. If you’re a writer (or a blogger, or a genre fan in general) then 2014 is a great year for conventions. If you’ve never been to one before, or only a couple and it hasn’t quite stuck, or if you’ve been thinking about it, then this is the year.

Bear with me on this. I know cons aren’t for everyone. They cost money (writing not being a profession that is naturally associated with great wealth), time, and can require some inconvenient travel arrangements. You absolutely do not have to go to cons to be successful, and con attendance is absolutely, positively not a promise of success.

But they are damn good fun.

So why is 2014 so good? Firstly, there are a lot of conventions on, and they are all over the place. If you live in the UK, there’s a good chance that at some point this year one of the larger cons will be within reasonable travelling distance. There’s Eastercon in Glasgow in the middle of April; Fantasycon in York in September; Londoners are spoiled for choice with Worldcon and Nine Worlds blocking out half of August. Throw Bristolcon, Thought Bubble, and Edge Lit into the mix, and that’s a *packed* year. If you write crime? Harrogate is the date for your diary. That’s off the top of my head and I don’t doubt for a second I’ve missed some.

Secondly, 2014 is a good time to go to conventions because there is so much cross-over between the genre community at conventions and online. It’s one massive conversation, constantly ongoing, always developing, and it’s exciting and fun to be a part of it. There’s a whole community out there, right now, and they are (for the most part) a ridiculously friendly and welcoming bunch.

The very first convention I went to, I talked to four people in total. I went for an extended walk and sat by myself at one point because I was convinced that they were talking to me out of pity and that they were just too polite to ditch me. It wasn’t until I went onto Twitter and started looking up people who had also been at the con (*cough* stalker *cough*) that I realised that feeling – that fear – was not unique to me. There were a lot of people just as eager as me, and at the same time just as anxious.

So, when it came to the second convention, I gave myself the order to show up. Say hi, introduce myself, have a conversation. Enjoy spending time with a group of people who not only read the books I do, but read more, know more. It was the best decision.

I don’t know how much value conventions have had for me as a writer. I can’t quantify it as a sum of money or in terms of how I feel they have advanced my (fledgling) career. I deliberately try to avoid thinking of them in those terms because it would feel a little bit mercenary to do so. It’s only happened to me once, but I have had someone cast their gaze around the room the instant they discovered I wasn’t either a publisher or published – it’s not very nice at all.

I will say, though, that without the friends I’ve made, these past five years or so would have been a lot less fun. Were it not for some of them, it’s possible I would have thrown in the towel long before now.

So, what cons are you going to? And which ones have I missed?

She says the jungle…it just came alive and took him.

Keeping score from my previous post, number of earnestly sniffy author tweets about NaNoWriMo spotted? One. Not bad for the middle of October! Also one sneaky attempt to troll me by Tom Lloyd, whose Twilight Reign books are cracking. Go read them.

So, I read this post by Alasdair Stuart and thought it a marvellous opportunity to reflect on my own experience of cons over the past few years (as I only started attending in 2009).

More importantly, I will also be volunteering at WFC, red jacket and everything. If you’re new or stuck for something to do or someone to talk to, then feel free to say hi if you spot me.* I’m reasonably approachable (I think) and it’s always nice to meet new people.

But yeah. As Alasdair says, conventions are things that you can very easily build up in your mind, and aren’t always the easiest thing to interface with. I’ve been to at least two a year in the past four years and have met a metric fuckton of people, and yet I still walk into the bar/hotel lobby and think to myself, “I know no-one here.

One thing that I’ve never done at a convention is to play Rock Band/Karaoke. It feels like one of those things that everyone else remembers from a convention that I somehow missed, or that it only took place because a small group of people went off and did it on their own. Either way, all I’m saying is that if offered the opportunity, I would be on that.

Rock climbing, too. Also laser tag. COME ON, people.

LokiMadnessGIF

*Cough*

Anyway. I like going to conventions. I used to find them intimidating but after a couple I kind of found my groove in that I treat the whole thing as an extension of my Twitter feed. The vast majority of people I meet I know via Twitter already, or follow once I’ve met them – social media identity is a nice way of breaking the ice, or – indeed – finding that it has been broken already. It’s also a handy way of getting over the inevitable con-envy: the sneaking suspicion that everyone else is having a better, more meaningful con experience than you. All you have to do is glance at your phone and you’ll find a bunch of people on your timeline also going, “I know no-one here, what is this?” on the first day, too.

Advice for cons? I don’t know if I’m the person to look to for advice,** but I would recommend finding a friend to sit with you in panels. You never really know if a panel is going to be your bag, and even if it is then you can find yourself dipping in and out of the conversation. Sometimes you’ll go to a great panel that has awful questions. It happens, and in those moments you’ll be glad you’ve got your friend and a little notepad to communicate with. I can remember sitting watching a panel with Alasdair and Amanda Rutter at an SFX Weekender where we amused ourselves through a painful session of questions by rating people’s microphone technique. Good times.

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Vincent Holland-Keen, Adele Wearing, Alasdair Stuart at Thought Bubble. Look how happy it has made them!

Oh, and go to Thought Bubble. Even if you’re not into comics, it’s a really good atmosphere and you might find some incredible art you didn’t know about.

OH AND ONE MORE THING. If you go out to dinner, don’t go in a group of 20-30 people unless you’re heading to a buffet place. Your food will arrive at the table a day later. Trust me. Little groups are best.

 

*Easily done. I’m bald, wear glasses, bit gormless looking. Not hard to pick out in a crowd of genre geeks at all.

**The usual, of course, applies. Be nice. People may not remember you – we all meet a lot of people in our lives – but if you’re an asshat they will definitely not forget.

Super Thursday.

So, today marks the official launch date of Blood and Feathers, by Lou Morgan.

this is a book that you should be buying

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was very lucky to pick this up at the start of the week, the local Waterstones having a single copy out for sale which I immediately snapped up. Of course, it has not been replaced since – that’s Hull for you; endless piles of slice-of-life nostalgia wank in the style of James Herriot, single or zero copies of smoking-hot genre releases.

Did I say smoking hot? Oh yes, I should mention that. It’s bloody good. Working on the premise that the War between Heaven and Hell is starting to gather momentum, the main character Alice finds herself stuck smack dab in the middle of it. Far from being asked to pick a side, it becomes abundantly and immediately clear that both sides have plans for her, and neither seems overly worried about her opinion on the matter.

It’s a tricky balance, but Morgan handles the telling with aplomb. Sailing the course between Scylla and Charybdis (I know I used this description on Twitter already, but I can’t type “rock” and “hard place” together without thinking of Paul Bettany in A Knight’s Tale), the reader’s sympathy stays rooted in the most important part: the human one.

With the sequel already due August next year, it’ll be interesting to see where things go from here.

Also release today are The City’s Son by Tom Pollock, and the paperback of Department 19: The Rising by Will Hill. Sadly neither of these were in stock when I’ve been into town so my comments on those will have to wait.

Continue reading “Super Thursday.”

Edge Lit 2012

With Alt.Fiction moving date and venue this year, the space it left behind – in terms of both – was filled by the start of a new single-day convention based on the same template. With Derby being a relatively short drive down for me, I thought it was worth partitioning off the time and heading down for.

My day started before Edge.Lit, with an invite to join some friends at a cafe just round the corner from the venue which Vick intended to review. It was worth getting up early for. They served strong coffee in larger-than-anticipated enameled tin mugs, organic bacon cooked to perfection, and scrambled eggs on toast that came in a portion almost too generous for my half-asleep digestive system to handle.

The cafe and the excellent food were merely backdrop to the company, though, and it was great to sit with a table of friends that I mostly “see” online and just talk nonsense. There is a definite tendency towards the ridiculous in our conversations that I adore and wish I had access to all the time. I don’t think there’s any other situation where the conversation could flow naturally from Vick’s glass allergy to perverted carnivorous parrots to a general agreement that “épicerie” is French for “epic recipe”.

Breakfast done, we strolled down to the Quad and Edge Lit began. In stark contrast to my first time at the Quad (where I stood around looking awkward until the panels started) I immediately ran into people that I know and a conversation started that didn’t really end so much as bubble along through the rest of the day.

I only managed two of the panels, being How do I internets? (paraphrasing loosely on the title there) and Publishing Today. I would have liked to have gone to more, but had spent most of the night awake with a sinus-trying-to-climb-out-of-head headache and I was terrified that if I sat for any longer in a dark room with a comfortable seat, I was going to nod off and wake up later with a drawn-on moustache. The panels were entertaining and interesting, with an informal Good Morning TV setup instead of the standard table with microphones. Mark Yon of SFFWorld and Lee Harris made moderating look easy, and the panelists used the time really well.

I think the meta-message (if you will) for aspiring writers in the audience was how well the authors did in their panels. There’s a certain skill to presenting yourself well in public and particularly on stage, and those two panels were prime examples of how to do it right. Sarah Pinborough wrote a blog post about advice for writers which includes the advice to “be charming”. It’s absolutely spot on, and it’s at little cons like Edge Lit where you really get to see that come to the fore. Granted the audiences aren’t very big, but I doubt there were many people leaving at the end of the day who would not be willing to champion the authors they met there.

I let myself down a little bit with the dealer’s room. I always try and show support at conventions by buying something, but with my contract ending before the summer and nothing on the horizon until September the long dry spell of August just seemed a little too close to add even more to my TBR pile. I’ll make up for it another time, I guess.

Just like with the cafe we ate at, the big draw of the convention was not the content. As Lee Harris put it, you go to conventions – even the little ones – to be with your people. I got to sit and chat with Damien Walter, who I met briefly at Alt.Fiction but was too busy being destroyed at Trivial Pursuits to talk to, and it turns out he’s just as awesome if not more than he is online. I also met Vicky Hooper, editor and writer and gamer and – most important of all – Mass Effect fan. I got to hear Catherine Hill’s incredible, hilarious rant about why Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a pile of nonsensical shit*, and deliberate over Vick’s latest round of experimental fudge flavourings.** I also found out that it’s not just me who has had short stories accepted but not really in the last twelve months, where editors will say “we like it but don’t know where to put it, do you mind if we hang onto it?” and then never contact you again. Although I well understand the frustration, it was heartening in a way to find out that it’s not just me.

I ended the day pretty early, mostly due to the fact that I was really, really tired and wanted to get home while I still knew driving was within the acceptable limits of my ability. Had I been feeling a bit more alive, I do not doubt that I would have been there until late o’clock, and that it would have been awesome.

 

*for future reference, all James Franco roles will be in the format of “Scientist James Franco” or “Drug Dealer James Franco”.

**the concept of bringing multiple flavours and asking me to state a preference is the wrong thing to do. As long as it’s not salted licorice, I will eat anything sweet by the fistful.

Fifty-fifty.

It’s funny being on the periphery of things when they happen. Over the past day or so of Twitter, I’ve been following the very rapid development of a plan to encourage gender parity on panels at conventions, in particular SF/F ones. This was precipitated by Paul Cornell in a ‘blog post and has been picked up by others (such as debut author and boss of the dancefloor, Tom Pollock). There is, as I understand from Twitter-grapevine, an official 50/50 brand being developed, which would encourage awareness at a con-organisation level.

As someone who doesn’t really have a role in the SFF community aside from being a guy who turns up at a couple of conventions every year, I think it’s great. One of the things I’ve noticed about Paul Cornell is that he’s a nice guy. Super-nice, in fact. I can well imagine the headache he has caused for convention organisers this year, but I can’t help but think that a year or two from now we’ll be looking back and thinking his sudden impulse, that little flash of inspiration that made him go right, here’s how *I’m* going to play my part was worth the headaches and the inevitable ten-minute muddles that are going to crop up in panels across conventions for the rest of 2012.

As a con attendee, I like the idea of parity. I think there are a lot of interesting female creators and critics out there who would come across very well on panels. I think female creators deserve as much right to exposure as men – while I don’t think authors should be sat on a panel simply to plug their books, I will freely admit to having picked up books on the sole basis of an interesting performance by the author on a panel.

I can well understand that it is a mind-buggeringly difficult task to organise a convention, and to organise panels within that convention, and to match the topic to the guests to the moderators, and then have to schedule it all so it fits into a weekend with as few conceptual overlaps as possible. But I think that while this is the case, introducing gender parity is a great step forward towards reducing the bias that the SF/F community struggles to shed itself of.

I can accept there are going to be problems – and some blinding arguments – on the way there, but as Mr Cornell puts it,  there is only one moral unit I am in control of.

Me.

So what I’m going to do is simple. I’m going to turn up to the conventions I can afford and find time for, as I usually do. If I go to a panel and a guest drops out to achieve parity, I’m not going to grumble. I’m not going to complain, or moan on Twitter, even if it’s a guest I really, really wanted to see. Instead, I’m going to applaud.

Even if it takes up half the time slot with seat changes and introductions and arguments and wrangling, I’m going to applaud. Because at the very heart of it, people are making an effort.