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First Time at FantasyCon, Brighton 2011

view of sunny Brighton from the Pier

Blazing hot Brighton

Have just got back from FantasyCon, the annual British Fantasy Society convention. I enjoyed myself so much that now only liberal amounts of ice-cream and wine are preventing me from rocking, lonely in a corner, muttering ‘Aldiss’, ‘Abercrombie’ and ‘air conditioning’  like an incantation.

I was nervous. I wanted to go to a Con, cos all the cool kids in America are always raving about what fun they have at Comic Con and how GRR Martin coughed on them once in an elevator and they’ve never been the same since. So when I found out that the next FantasyCon was in Brighton – where I actually live, and everything – I knew I had to go. But I also had to ignore the nerves, and the terror, and the surety that all of the Real, Funny, Important people would pick on me. The surety that I’d somehow have a terrible time, despite all the books and the beer and the beach.

I didn’t need to be nervous. As well as meeting lovely people like Lou Morgan who went out of their way to be friendly, it was easy to relax in a crowd where I could chat about all things genre and be certain that every other huddle in the bar was having similar conversations. Thanks go to Chris Limb who listened to my detailed exploration of which series of Buffy was best and whether Amy Pond is shit or not (as well as figuring out that I was referring to Farscape and The Time Tunnel based only on my vague, gesture-laden descriptions of half-remembered shows). We had hoped to meet other new people at the Newbies Corner part of the bar, but when Chris went to check it out the corner was occupied instead by Robert Rankin, deep in conversation with a friend. What a swizz 😉

Being surrounded all weekend by people who knew what I was talking about, who read the same books and bitched about the same things, was brilliant. My local friends don’t read or watch the same things I do, so I’m more used to having those conversations online than face-to-face. This was like the internet, but in real life. Woah.

In the same way, instead of reading the blogs and twitter feeds of people who matter in the industry, I was eavesdropping on them in person, heh. Same conversations, different situation. With seagulls, and fish ‘n chips, and crowds of tourists and parties in the background outside the hotel. As I commented on Christopher Fowler’s blog, I’m sure the screaming from the pier rides and Strange Bungee Thing made the horror writers feel at home. One stag weekend that passed along the promenade was twelve guys in Storm Trooper outfits and one in full Darth gear. They should have joined the Con.



There was a fab programme of panels, readings, book launches and films, running from Friday to Sunday, as well as a Quiz, Raffle and Disco. Yes, with capitals. The panels covered a wide range of subjects, including Trends in Fantasy, YA fiction, Genre Movies (Best and Worst) and How to Scare Your Readers. Every panel I attended ended up talking about being online and whether ebooks were evil or not. Me, I’m firmly in the ‘ebooks are the best thing ever’ camp, and my reading (and book buying) rate has tripled since I got my Kindle, so I was surprised at how much ill-feeling there seemed to be towards them. Think I’ll save that for another post…

Brian Aldiss, by Joel Meadows Photography

Brian Aldiss, by Joel Meadows Photography

The main things I got from the panels were ‘Carrie was not a YA novel’, ‘No, we don’t know why women aren’t writing SF’ and ‘Write a Great Book. Don’t be a Wanker’. My favourite bit of wisdom was this from Brian Aldiss –  “remember just two words…’fuck ’em!'”. Aldiss was the con’s Special Guest of Honour and was interviewed in a very hot, very full room on the Saturday afternoon. It was surprising to hear how much of his fiction, which is so conceptual and far flung, started from incidents and issues in his real life. He talked about how certain events – rejection from his mother, army life, the loss of his children – were explored and worked through in his stories, though he wasn’t always aware of that while writing them. I was inspired and daunted by how much he’s experienced, how prolific a writer he is, and how funny he can be. I don’t think the interviews or panels were recorded, which is a shame as I’d definitely listen to his interview again.

I didn’t attend much of the programming for the other Guests of Honour, illustrious though they were (Gwyneth Jones, Peter Atkins, Joe Abercrombie, Christopher Paolini), but I did stand next to John Ajvide Lindqvist and was pretty spooked. He looks like he could have starred in Let The Right One in, not only write it, though apparently he used to be a stand-up comedian.  I should have stalked him more to get a better measure of him. Or maybe he was a really spooky stand up as well?

One of James Hannah's illustrations from 'One for the Road'

One of James Hannah's illustrations from 'One for the Road'

I won A Prize at the Raffle, w00t! Bitching loudly about how Graeme Reynolds kept winning while I was empty-handed eventually paid off, and I came home with a slip-cased limited edition of Stephen King’s ‘One for The Road’ from PS Publishing, signed by the illustrator. It is very gorgeous, and you’re right to be jealous. I added it to my bag of swag, and my boyfriend was delighted to see me bring even more books into the house.  Honest. Other swag included skull-shaped chocolates and Hammer Horror cupcakes (thanks to Jan Edwards & Peter Coleburn), as well as a stack of free novels, samplers and a notebook from Jo Fletcher Books. Solaris gave away books at their event, and the basement was full of dealers peddling piles more paperbacks.

I missed the disco, though I hear that ‘Paperback Writer’ went down a storm, as well as ‘Amadeus’. Wish I’d had the stamina to stay and boogie but I was flagging in the heat. What a lightweight. I hear that dancing was compulsory and went on past 4am. I hope they played ‘Psycho Killer’, ‘Let me Be Your Fantasy’ and ‘Monster Mash’ too (but not ‘Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel’, given the drubbing that the angel genre got from the panels).

I’m definitely going to go to more conventions now, even ones that aren’t 15 minutes from my house, and if you’re tempted to try one but scared, let me push you into trying it anyway. By the end of the weekend I was so used to friendly strangers, so comfortable chatting to the people next to me, that I forgot to stop when I left the convention and started chatting to people in the supermarket on the way home. Which is a pretty cool frame of mind to end the weekend with, don’t you think?

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Quick Quick Slow

feet to fast for shutter to catchI’ve not yet finished the draft I thought I’d be done with last month, but I have had some great ‘ping!’s about what this middle section needs. Insights that help change it from ‘and then, after The Beginning, they decide to go Slay The Baddies, uncovering (and solving) a Mystery in the process, which leads nicely to The End‘ to something with more substance – less of a service-station stop en route to the end, more of a village in its own right.

I wonder if I’d have got those pings if I’d hurtled through the draft at the pace I’d intended? Yes, I probably would. Going slower got my brain composting some stuff and working on some neat revelations, but had I gone faster and – crucially – worked every day, I’d have been so submerged in the story that the same revelations would have come and probably been signposted more clearly. No justification for slackening the pace, sadly, but good to know that both speeds still get me the same story.

My reading’s going much more swiftly, what a surprise, eh? I loved A Long Long Sleep, by Anna Sheehan, despite a slow start, and stayed up late to finish it. Review for the BFS to come. I was angry and disappointed by The Magician King; Fillory sounded like my kind of place til I realised that all Grossman’s strong female characters meet terrible ends (or are, like Janet, left on P.27 and never seen again). Audra at Unabridged Chick puts it well –

‘I don’t mind darker themes and I don’t mind a harder edge to my fantasy — but I want it doled out in equal part.  Sparing all the male magicians while making the women all victims is frustrating, and whatever pay out comes at the end never feels enough to make the violence okay.  It’s disappointing and frustrating and frankly, feels cheap.  

Her review is here and my review for the British Fantasy Society is linked to here.

Talking of the BFS – it’s FantasyCon this month! It’s the first one I’m attending, and I’m very excited. Thank you to Lou Morgan for writing a newbie A-Z – check it out on her blog here.

Right, must get back to The Sims – oops, no, I mean work. Honest, guv.


Things I’m doing this week:

Watching: Lost Girl, Season 1 on Syfy (great so far!)

Reading: Roil, by Trent Jamieson (also great so far)

Eating: punk rock vegan cookies. If they’re vegan I can eat as many as I want, right?

Listening to: Pot Kettle Black, Tilly and The Wall

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The Magician King by Lev Grossman

cover of magician king lev grossman

Reviewed for The British Fantasy Society

Somewhere in these pages was a story I could have loved, with characters I cared about. But both got lost amidst the relentless world-hopping and cumulative misogyny. What a shame.

I really liked The Magicians. Still do. It took the childhood stories that shaped me, added clever, modern writing and created a new classic. In this sequel we’re back with the same characters, now kings and queens of Fillory. But Quentin’s a bit bored, and fancies some adventure…

Before long he’s messed things up and ends up back in the real world. He and Julia get a road trip across the globe while they try to return to Fillory, crossing through Julia’s old haunts to a beautifully described, magical Venice. For a while the book was great…

Read full review


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Due to some late night messing around on WordPress without supervision, I got water on it locked out of my old blog for a few weeks. Don’t mix droopy eyelids with WordPress, kids.  So I finally had some impetus to move to this domain, which I had parked for when I felt clever and special enough to use my own name. Um. Well. I feel more dishevelled and out-of-sorts than either of those things, but fake it til you make it, as Socrates said.

bill ted and socrates. yes i know i meant aristotle

Of course, minutes after I’d got this place set up I regained access to my old site – but I’m comfy now. And I did something to the css that I don’t understand but am very proud of. So I’m staying here. Welcome!

I’ve moved my old posts and comments over already, and I’ve added in links to my reviews that live elsewhere. There will be more of those soon – I’ll soon be reviewing at Slacker Heroes three times a month, which I’m very chuffed about, cos that’s where all the cool kids hang out. And me.

What with Slacker Heroes, my latest parcel from the British Fantasy Society, and my ongoing Amazon addiction (my Kindle is a hungry beast) I have lots of reading to do this month. Read read read. Write write write. I failed CampNano last month – did you? –  but it did what I wanted it to do, which was remind me that I can write fast and write fast I did. Am. Looks like I will have a finished version* of this story by the end of next week and then I can start prettying it up. Read read read. Write write write.

(*I hate the word draft today. ‘Version’ will do nicely instead, plus it reminds me of The Lemonheads)

I’ve already encountered the first book so bad I won’t review it (it’s another writer’s baby, so I would feel like such a bitch if I publicly slandered it, even though it was v dire), and thankfully discovered Lev Grossman whose awesomeness totally made up for the bad book. I was sent The Magician King, but decided to pick up The Magicians and read that first to get the context. Boy am I glad I did  – Lev and I clearly read the same books growing up, and he has built a world where all the cool bits of, say, Narnia  or Tom’s Midnight Garden are real and even grown-ups can get there . I’d hate to be too old to visit magical lands.

Reviews of both ‘The Magicians’ and ‘The Magician King’ coming soon, as well as a post that was already brewing on which books I (and Lev Grossman, maybe?) loved when I was younger and haunt me now I’m creating a world of my own. Mine’s more graffiti’d railway bridges  than grandfather clocks, but I feel those echoes when I write, nonetheless.

Thanks for coming over to say hi to me in my new place. Leave the welcome gifts on the table – yes, I’ll take that beer, thanks, how kind – and feel free to look around. Ignore that New Smell, it’ll wear off soon.



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