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FantasyCon 2015: a round-up

Grimbold Books members
The Grimbold Posse

Wow. Well, I’m sort of glad that’s over!

I was just at FantasyCon 2015 in Nottingham from the 23-25th October. A whole team of Grimbold Books came up; we had a table in the Dealer’s room, a couple of authors were on panels, and we planned to have a lot of fun! I hadn’t volunteered for anything – as the submissions closed before BristolCon happened I was going to see how I did with the panel there before I volunteered for anything else! – so I was just a spectator this time.

Steve Aryan reading
Steve Aryan, courtesy of Adrian Faulkner

The review: overall, I enjoyed the Con. It was a small one, 500 people, and the hotel never felt full; there were enough spaces and things going on that everyone fitted nicely. It also meant people were recognisable when you bumped into them for the third time! The food situation was awful, the hotel staff were lacklustre but the Con staff (Redcloaks) were amazing, the panels were interesting, there were a nice haul of books around and I talked to lots of interesting people! I think I would have to have a reason to return – be that friends are coming, it’s got some interesting GoHs, I have a specific book reason. But I’m not sure that it’s one I would routinely make sure I attended.

So, having said that – if you want the in-depth version, please read more!

Continue reading FantasyCon 2015: a round-up

BristolCon 2015: round-up

BristolCon is a small writer’s convention in Bristol (as the name suggests) that I’ve been meaning to go to for a few years. And this year, I finally got to go! BristolCon was my first official convention, although I’ve read and hear enough about them to know the basics. I knew quite a few people who were going to be there (some personally, some by Twitter, some by reputation) and so it wasn’t entirely scary.

So! On Saturday morning, we left far too early from Swindon. I had the sword-fighting, storm-chasing legend that is Adrian Faulkner, Nick Hembery (otherwise known as the excellent proofreader and editor from Red Pen For Hire) and the ever-enthusiastic Ollie in my car, so the drive down was fairly chatty (and accompanied by the new Muse album!) Thanks to Siri we ended up in the wrong hotel car-park, but it got us five minutes of fresh air so I think that was a bonus.

Grimbold_StallI helped set up the Grimbold stall and squeaked over Logan in a Dangermouse outfit (SO CUTE) before diving off for a much-needed coffee and catch-up with Sophie E Tallis and Katie Alford. I slid into “Crossing the genre borders” just before the opening and spent the next two hours in the same room! The panel was interesting, and then Adrian did his first reading from Black As Night, which I have heard a lot about and now am even more enthusiastic to read. I then sat through “Libraries – past, present and future” with lots of Opinions and Thoughts and Grumbles and I’m really glad I wasn’t on the panel as I definitely would have had a lot to say! It was really interesting to hear what the panellists thought, and I’m going to have to do a post at some point on it… [Edit; Sawyl has livejournaled the panel]

I stayed for Ellen Croshain‘s reading from Cruelty (which I have reviewed and loved) and then headed off to cover the Grimbold stall for a while. The lovely @Vicorva joined me to discuss which books she wanted to read (answer: all of them) so I got to recommend The Reluctant Prophet and Songs of Seraphina, and then we got kicked off the table by Steven J Guscott and Logan, who both needed naps, supervised by Sammy

Claire Hutt
Claire Hutt, Abstract 22

I had a lovely wander around the art room and a talk to Claire Hutt about scarves, artwork and Hackspace (although that was mostly Jon talking about the new laser printer) and then through the dealer’s room to chat to Alex Davis at Boo Books Publishing and try to stop Will MacMillan Jones from corrupting more people.

Then it was Jo’s book launch! I was lucky enough to get a pre-launch copy of Spark and Carousel, so the launch was particularly exciting as other people get to read the awesomness too. It was great fun with lights and cake, and then Jo had a queue…she’d pretty much sold out of stock by 3pm! We were also raffling Evelinn Enoksen‘s original artwork for Spark & Carousel, which was beautiful. Unfortunately I’m not sure who won it in the end. (Edit: Jo’s got it! Richard Bendall won it and then gave it to her. Isn’t that the sweetest?)

Jo Hall signing
Jo, Sammy and I at the signing

After that drama, I headed off to “How Green Is Your Future?” The panel was brilliant thanks to the efforts of three of the panellists, who bantered back and forth with some very lively and entertaining conversation – and if you ever see a fire-breathing newt, it’s all Ollie’s fault…

Spark and Carousel artwork
Spark and Carousel original art by Evelinn

And then it was my turn. ARGH. I admit I was wondering why on earth I’d agreed to be on a panel, but it was actually brilliant! I was with Paul Cornell, Emma Newman and Lor Graham to talk about “Fantastic Felonies and Criminal Crossovers”, with Adrian MD’ing. The room was absolutely packed, and we did lose Paul to start with (so, whodunnit? Universal consensus was Adrian). But once he turned up, we covered why supernatural crime is popular, if procedural policing is harder to write, the influence of magic on solving crimes…I forget most of it but it was brilliant and very easy going. Adrian was excellent at keeping the conversation flowing (it was his first time MD’ing) and I might even sign up for a panel next year! I’m glad I was on something that I had a grounding in, though; I didn’t stutter, go read or tail off – but that’s mostly because I was confident in my subject area. I need to remember that before I get too cocky at what I’m volunteering for! [Edit: the wonderful Sawyl has livejournalled this panel too!]

After that, Paul did a reading from Witches of Lychford (which sounds excellent and is on my TBR list), and then I stayed put for “Radically Alternate History”. I admit I didn’t find this as interesting as some of the other panels; it wasn’t as history-focused as I had expected, and I didn’t have the background in reading alternate history to know a lot of the authors or scenarios that were being talked about. I think I was also starting to flag; we dived off to Tesco to find food after that! A sandwich later and I was feeling better, and sat with the Swindon posse in the break-out room for a while. I now wish I’d gone to “Here Be Dragons” as apparently that was excellent, but oh well!

We had wanted to stay for the evening, but everyone admitted to tiredness as we hit 8pm and so we headed back. I did grab Jo as we left to get a signed copy of Spark and Carousel, but I didn’t have much time for book-buying – my haul mostly consists of the free books from the goodie bags and a lot of recommendations! But hey, I think not adding to my TBR pile is a good thing right now.

So, overall? Brilliant. A small, friendly convention where there’s always something interesting happening, someone to talk to or space to escape. The hotel staff were wonderful (free tea and coffee was much appreciated!) and the BristolCon organisers deserve much kudos for the smooth running of the day. It was great fun, and I am definitely going to sign up for next year – memberships are already open!

And, in true Con fashion, I have a cold (with the fun addition of tiredness, sickness and shivers). I’m blaming Emma Newman for it!

Ps. The photos are all Sophie E Tallis, who was one of the few people clued-in enough to remember to take some!

Inspiration: Wednesday Writing

Every week, Swindon FreeWriters has a Wednesday Writing prompt. It can be a phrase or an image, but the idea is to get you writing…anything! It can be a 100-word story; it can be a poem; it can be the trigger for the next section in your stalled novel; it can be for the plot of your next work. Sit down and write whatever comes out of your head!

It’s mostly me who does them, and the images are ones I’ve found over the years (all credited, thankyouverymuch – I appreciate content creators as much as the next writer!). I usually make up the phrases based on things I’ve read, seen, am thinking about…

It’s quite fun and is a little creative exercise for me at the beginning of each month. I want to do something with the prompts and FreeWriters – I keep meaning to start a forum post for them and also join in myself with writing, but Wednesday always seems to pass without me actually writing anything… *sigh*

But the inspiration’s up there for anyone to use, at least! Go and check the series out and see what you can find to inspire you!

On becoming an editor

“EH! COME BACK HERE, YOU FOOKING COWARDS!”

The dull whine of the distant drop ship’s engines faded into the background noise of wind as the vapour trail edged ever onward towards the western horizon. It had been a setup.

“COME BACK! I HIRED YOU BASTARDS AND THIS IS HOW YOU REPAY ME!?”

Over the last two months, I have beta-read three stories, torn apart two and helped plan one. I email three people on a regular basis about writing (I offer an ass-kicking service on request), and I get the wonderful pleasure of reading some really funny blog posts from a friend who isn’t yet on Twitter – annoyingly, as I really want to promote her! I seem to have somehow become an editor as well as a writer…

My beta-reads include an absolutely beautiful and unusual Chinese/magic/fantasy by one Swindon friend, a thrilling sci-fi Western by @Nick_Hembery, and a magical fantasy (in installments). I’m also lined up to read an awesome story from @Figures. I spent three hours on Thursday morning going through plot, worldbuilding and characters for my cousin’s sprawling 3-series magical/sci-fi books which sound like a cross between Brandon Sanderson and Peter F. Hamilton, and at frequent points over the last few months I’ve been outlining, plotting, alpha-reading and shaking up a story from @O_T_Curtis. The quote at the start of this is from the opening chapter of his work – Requiem is my favourite character because he’s an absolute sarcastic bastard, and I’m really looking forward to reading the book!

I’ve also been reading and reviewing a lot. Over the past few weeks, I’ve read my way through a lot of the Grimbold Books back catalogue and reviewed several books, with several more to go…I stopped reading when I was doing my MSc (yay, dissertation) and never really got started again until now. Having a Kindle app on my phone has really helped with reading on the train, and I’m now starting to branch out into all of the stuff that’s on my to-read list!

I’m loving the chance to beta read other people’s work, and I think – I hope – I’m pretty good at it. I try to give an overview, general questions, my thoughts, enthusiasm and comments and wider questions. I try to think about what the work needs more of, what I’m missing and enjoying and thinking; if I’m asking the questions, so will the end reader, and I try to highlight general problems. I can do specific critique, and that’s one thing I think a beta-reader needs: you have to pay attention to what the author wants. It can sometimes be hard to rein in the editor, the proofreader or the snark or the “uh, I now have a list”…but if that’s not what has been asked for, don’t give it. I personally hate getting proofing comments when what I wanted was plot – if I’m going to rewrite, why are you telling me about spelling errors? Ragh.

I don’t like to be in isolation, though. I think most work needs several beta-readers (as @Figures pointed out, two of his original betas hated the work that he’s currently got extremely high hopes for) and you’ll get different comments from different readers. Everyone reads books differently, and particularly on a beta-read, you’ll get different ideas of characters; that’s partly why I try to give comment feedback, as how the plot and character comes out may not be how you intended. Did you mean for your heroine to be that unlikeable? (If yes, awesome!) Did you mean to share all of the background? Do we need quite that much info-dump now or is it going to be vitally important two paragraphs later? And why on earth did that person just do something they said they weren’t…ohhhh, someone’s pointing a gun at them. I missed that bit. Can you make that clearer?

So…I guess it feels weird to still be involved in writing, but not actually be writing. I haven’t done a lot of writing for myself, partly because I haven’t been in the mood and partly because I’ve been enjoying other things, but I do need to remember that editing and beta-reading do count as ‘writing work’! They’re both hard work too, and it does require a lot of concentration – and I have to be in the mood to do it (aka. have some brain power available). It’s usually anything between three to six hours to beta something properly, for anyone who thinks it’s easy! However, I love being able to read stories and make a difference on them, and if it’s a great read then all to the good.

@O_T_Curtis is impatiently waiting for me to praise his work, so I’ll publish this now – yes, Ollie, I like Requiem. Now get on with writing so I can read what happens next!

Ps. I’m also going to hawk @NickHembery‘s Red Pen For Hire service again – he betas and edits my work, and he’s excellent!

On NaNoWriMo and word counts

Ok, I’ll say it. I don’t get NaNoWriMo.

I was thinking yesterday about how close we are to November, and then wondering what I was going to write this year. Then I realised that I’m nervous and worried about it; there’s a faint flutter of anxiety. I can’t greet it with the same terrified enthusiasm that many of my writing friends do. They already have their novels planned out, their plots in place, their ideas ready to go. They’re looking forward to the challenge, albeit knowing it’s going to be bloody hard work. And I’m not.

I gotta admit that I’m not the prime target for NaNo. I’ve been writing since I was 14 (and making up stories since I was a child), and thanks to that I have the habit of writing already ingrained. I don’t have an issue getting the stories out of my head. I don’t have a problem with writing characters, or plots, or words. I’m published, with another two books coming out in the next year, two more from the series finished and three more planned, along with a large stack of other writing that probably won’t see the light of day. I am already a writer!

I love the camaraderie. I love the write-ins, the chance to see my friends, the chance to sit down and just write, to have some time dedicated to it. I love the enthusiasm.

But…I don’t use the prompts (mostly because things like “kill someone with a shovel” don’t really fit into much of my work). The lure of cheap Scriviner deals for winners isn’t much of a prize, as I don’t use it. I can’t hit the daily totals; I either completely smash them or don’t get anywhere near. Because I’m writing a series, I struggle to explain my problems to other people, and I often need to find my own solutions to plot and character issues. I can write 36,000 words in two weeks…but I can’t do that all the time, and certainly not continuously for a month until I get to 50,000.

And it burns me out. I don’t like NaNo because I’m not that sort of writer. I don’t need most of what they’re offering, and I can’t be the sort of writer you need to be to do it successfully. But I do enjoy the social aspects of it, even if I know I’ll never win it.

So I think I’m going to use the time this year to try to get Book 6 of the GreenSky series, Desert Sands and Silence, finished. It’s currently on 12,000 words with the first four chapters mostly complete and the next three or four planned out. I also know what I want to happen in the second half, roughly, which means it still has the capacity to surprise me. If I can get that finished in the month, then I think that will be a good enough success for me to feel like I’ve ‘won’ something.