Thursday, April 19, 2012

Alt.Fiction Day Two

Howdy all,
Finally, here are my notes from Day Two of Alt.Fiction, Leicester's premier SF convention.

The day started off for me with a panel by Graham Joyce and Kate Laity about fairy tales and folklore. Like most members of the audience, I was a little hungover, but what I took away from this session was:
  • Myth and fairy tale actually have very little to do with one another; there is more elasticity in folklore, whereas myth was deemed as more "fixed".
  • Fairy tales exist in every culture, the same stories recur over and over again.
  • The image of fairies from the Victorian age (delicate wings, white dresses, etc) was a way to make fairies "safe".
  • The idea that fairies are linked to a sense of the uncanny, of uncertainty, menace, and creativity as a destructive force.
  • Graham's new book sounds awesome!
Next up was a session on Diversity in Fantasy. I was pleased that they covered diversity in most senses of the word - sex, race, sexuality, even touching on religion. If they had included disability as well, then they'd have had to call bingo. The panel discussed secondary worlds, and how it is a writer's responsibility to consider diversity when creating their own universes. If there can be dwarves and dragons, why not minority ethnic characters? They touched on whether as readers, are we still conservative when it comes to homosexuality, male homosexuality in particular, and pointed at recent criticism of gay characters as evidence. The session made me reflect on my own writing, and I was pleased to discover that most of my stories contain characters from non-white backgrounds in (hopefully) non-stereotypical roles. Perhaps though the fact that I live in Leicester in a multi-cultural society, it is very hard for me to imagine even in a secondary world a place where "white male" is all there is.
I missed the last sessions because my stomach was rumbling something chronic and so I had to get something to eat before hunger turned me into the Hulk. Therefore I spent the rest of the afternoon in the Phoenix cafe, chatting to people, eating chunky chips with mayonnaise and improving my laughter lines.
I'm already looking forward to next year's event. So thanks to Adele and all who organised it. See you in 2013!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Alt.Fiction Day One

Last weekend was Leicester's turn to host Alt.Fiction, the sci-fi/fantasy convention run by Writing East Midlands. I had a pleasant time overall, meeting new people as well as hanging out with the Speculators. I took notes, and rather than let them fester in my notebook, I thought I'd share them here for you. This is a collection of my thoughts and notes from day one. Day two will be in a separate post.

The first panel I went to was about Science Fiction and Non-Fiction. It was a little disorganised at the beginning (I believe one of the panelists had been delayed) but got off to a good start. I was still waking up however, so didn't take a great deal of notes in this one. I think it can be boiled down to science fiction and non-fiction have a bit of a symbiotic relationship, and also fiction writers should be careful not to put all of their research into their fiction (a la the Da Vinci Code).

Next, I headed off to a workshop on The Business of Writing, with Mark Chadbourn. Quite interesting, although full of scary advice like "quit your day job". Mark was putting forward that you should treat being a writer in the same way as you would if you were setting up your own business. I totally agree with that, but for me, quitting my job now would be like starting my own plumbing service before I'd even qualified. Anyway, Mark gave loads of ideas as to how and where we could make money writing, and the key idea is to diversify, try a bit of everything if it pays, and use the crap jobs you do to buy you time to work on your ideal project.

The next panel was based around Dragon's Den, where writers role-played pitches to agents to show us what not to do. Basically:
  • Tell the agent the end of the story in your pitch letter.
  • Compare yourself with authors who are similar, but only if they have been successful in the last 5 years.
  • Show you are passionate about your work.
  • Consider series potential.
  • Finish writing the novel before you pitch anything.
  • Consider where your book would be placed in the bookshop.
  • Pay attention to details such as the agent's name, as well as spelling & grammar.
  • Keep the pitch short - ideally 3 paragraphs.
  • Read the guidelines on the agent's/publisher's website and follow them.
  • Write in the pitch letter that "my mum loves it".
  • Be closed off to feedback and criticism from agents, as they are there to help.
I think that's everything!

Onwards to Online Marketing, with Tom Hunter. Interesting session, especially as I work in Marketing for my day job. Condensing this session down to a few words of advice, I would say it boiled down to "don't be a git on the internet" and "be open to new opportunities". The other thing that was interesting was to learn that imprints are themselves trying to create more brand recognition, trying to be more personable. As a reader, I think this is a great idea.

Next, Comics. I came away with a long list of books I want to read, and will buy when I have some money. Also, the ways to get into comic writing are:
1. Get together with an artist and self-publish your own.
2. Be successful in another literary genre (ie TV, novel writing, etc) and then comic publishers will contact you.
3. Learn to draw. I laughed at this one, when relating it to myself. Next time, I'll try to remember to upload one of my "Lucy Drawings" and you'll see what I mean.

Finally, I went to a talk by James Swallow on "Games Narrative". I'm not a gamer, aside from loving Super Mario on the NES and having a pretty strong Sims 2 addiction, and hadn't really considered writing for games before. After this session, however, I was eager to buy an X-Box and have a crack at it! Games writing is all about the discovery of the story, as opposed to the delivery of a story (as in film/novels). I never realised how much work there was for a writer on games; not just the cut scenes and main story, but also every little bit of throw away dialogue by background characters, as well as all the stuff for the different options and pathways you can go down. James also talked about "environmental narrative", which was something I'd never thought of before, the way in which the environment is shaped tells you about characters, setting, time and place, mood and tone. Converse to novels and short stories, narrators in games have to be empty vessel characters, because you want the gamer to pour themselves into the game. The one thing he didn't touch on, I think because we ran out of time, was how you actually become a games writer. Maybe I'll find out at the next convention I go to!

So that was my Saturday, minus the free goodie bag, the wine and the curry. Really informative and fun day.