Monday, June 14, 2010


On Saturday I venutred to Alt.Fiction in Derby, my first SF convention. It's a small event in its infancy - I'm not sure, but I think it's either in its third or fourth year. I did have a good time, aside from a terrible head cold which capped the amount of socialising I could do, but I do think it could have been better.

Obviously, as a convention virgin, there were some things I found strange that apparently is just how it is; for instance, in the programme there was a gap from 5pm - 7pm where nothing happened. I think this is so that people have time to eat, but it just felt weird that there was nothing going on - it made it feel like two events, especially as a lot of people left at around 5.

I didn't go to any of the workshops, which I'm regretting a bit now, as the panels I went to weren't that great. Again, I think a lot of it is down to my expectations. I knew a lot already from the "How to get published" panel from attending the Writing Industries Conference (which was much more useful). The panel entitled "Hack & Slash Vs Sparkly Vampires" was a disappointment, as it seemed to just be a bitter rant about the popularity of paranormal romance in comparison with the panellists' own genres. I thought they missed a treat by not turning it into a proper debate about the changing role of sex and violence in YA literature as well as adult literature, eg taking the desexualisation of vampires in fiction as a starting point, charting the rise historically as well as sociologically. I mean, I think that any author or wannabe writer should take note of what is popular at the moment (rather than just dismissing it as "crap"), and dissect it to see what and why that is - yes, there is a certain amount of alchemy involved, but sometimes changing social trends and, in general changing sociological positions can have an impact on the cultural psyche and that in turn changes what people read and how people respond to literature. However, in its defense, I do think maybe the panel was a last minute addition, so maybe they were just winging it and hadn't had any time to prepare properly.

I think I'm more critical because I organise events for a living. I've organised conferences and events similar to conventions in the past (and at present - there's one on Saturday!), which does mean I am perhaps a bit quicker at deconstructing events than most!

I think one of the problems with Alt.Fiction is that it's not sure what it wants to be. I mean, I think pretty much everyone there was a writer, which is a good job, as there wasn't much there for fans of the genre who didn't write (the readings were in the evening and the one I went to only had about 5 - 6 people in it). A little evaluation form/post-event survey could find out who it is who is attending this event, and then focus it a little more - which would in turn attract more people (both guests and participants). As a writer, it would have been nice to have a panel specifically on the market at this time, predictions for the next 2 years, how to conduct market research, and how agents conduct their market research. I know, these are tricks of the trade, and agents are loathe to say "this is what will be big next year" because it will mean they get sent nothing but "that" for the next few months or more (and their predictions might prove incorrect). But I'm sure there are some things that could be said so aspiring authors don't feel like they are wandering around in the dark so much.

There, rant over! Anyway, I had a good day hanging out with my Speculator chums, and have to thank them for humoring me all day with my tissues and anti-viral hand wipes. Hopefully none of them have been contaminated!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

What I'm Reading...

I've been reading quite a lot lately. Recently, I finished Octavia Butler's Wild Seed - do you know it? It's quite an old book, having been published in 1980 (the year of my birth, coincidentally). The great thing about this book is that there is no waffle, no expedition. Everything is told in a very manner of fact way, everything relevant to the incidents of the scene you are reading. Butler knows exactly where her story starts, and doesn't preamble to set tone, universe, etc. That doesn't mean that the writing isn't lyrical or the world is lacking in some way - it is a very absorbing story. It feels like a very honest way to tell a story, and something that I'm going to try with my own writing.
I've also just finished reading Orson Scott Card's Hart's Hope. The narrative unfolds as a series of stories told by a mysterious narrator to one of the title characters, going over events that have shaped his life in order to persuade him not to kill his son. At first I found the conceit a little trying as the stories were not perhaps as engaging as they could have been. But by the middle section, I was hooked, and I'm not sure why - perhaps it was when, finally, we were given a hero to root for. Aside from Point Fantasy and the usual children's classics, I think this is actually the first alternative world medieval-esque fantasy book I have ever read,which is quite depressing when I think about it.
I'm now reading Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman. I am enjoying it so far, although I think I can tell it's for a younger audience, as a lot of the world-building stuff about the politics of the universe is presented to the reader on a plate. But aside from that, as I said, I'm enjoying the story, though I'm only about a quarter of the way in.
I've been reading Christopher Booker's The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories which I've had for a while but haven't tackled before. I've only just finished chapter two so far, but already it has proved insightful when analysing my own work and the plotting problems I've encountered. The chapter I've just finished explains the plot Booker has named "Overcoming the Monster" which covers everything from Star Wars, Little Red Riding Hood, The Magnificent Seven, the James Bond films, and, obviously, Beowulf. The hero/heroine gets "the call" - he/she must defeat some sort of monster that is threatening their home/mankind/the planet, and, equipped with "magical weapons", he/she goes off to face them. There is a stage where the hero first mets the monster/bad guys or their associates, and they win. Then they get captured/face the monster again, and it all looks like it's over for our hero until by some superhuman means, they overcome the monster at the last minute and save the world/get the "princess"/get the treasure. It's interesting, to me at least, because my own failed Inter Vivos sort of followed this story pattern, and comparing it to this very basic formula it's easy to see some of the places it went wrong (of course, to say this is it's only fault is being extremely simplistic!). My heroine Nox set out to defeat a monster that wasn't particularly threatening. Big fail.
So I've been enjoying reading lately, trying to write around it, think about the things that I want to do. I have been working more on my Corrie Flint-inspired novel, which is set in London and focuses on many different supernatural creatures that live there (the Banshee story sort of fits into this universe). It's been fun reinventing the troll and the leprechaun into 21st century London, and I just wish I had a little more time coming up to really be able to work on it more, rather than having to steal an hour here or there.
So things are looking up at the moment. I'm at Alt.Fiction on Saturday, so if any of you happen to be there, please come and say hi! The Speculators newspaper is free in the goodie bags apparently, so you can read my short story in there too!