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.