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FantasyCon 2014

This summer has been such a whirlwind of conventions, I feel like I hardly had time to recover from one before the next was upon me. It didn’t help that I developed a nasty case of con crud right after WorldCon, which is why I never got around to blogging about the fab time I had there. However I’ve finally managed to catch my breath, so here’s my review of this year’s FantasyCon, held in York.

In a word (well, three): Best. FantasyCon. Ever.

Now admittedly I have a soft spot for FantasyCon anyway, because it’s where I pitched The Alchemist of Souls to Marc Gascoigne of Angry Robot, back in 2010. It’s also known for its awesome disco, of which more later. But this year the BFS, led by the redoubtable Lee Harris, delivered a fantastic convention worthy of our national genre organisation.

Firstly the venue, the Royal York Hotel, was far superior to the Britannia hotels of previous FantasyCons (albeit wickedly expensive to stay in!). Thankfully it’s conveniently placed just outside the city centre, right next to the railway station, so attendees on more limited budgets could stay elsewhere without major inconvenience. The central location also provided plenty of choices for eating out, and the opportunity to pop into the beautiful city centre if you needed a break from the convention.

Another nice touch was that instead of the goodie bag containing a couple of random paperbacks, there was a table piled with books from which one could choose (there was still a goodie bag, but with only the programme and a few small items). This was great, because at past FantasyCons I’d mostly ended up with horror books (yuck!), whereas this year I scored copies of The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie and Gideon’s Angel by Clifford Beal, both of them novels I actively want to read.

More importantly, the programme was excellent. In recent years I’d more-or-less stopped attending panels at FantasyCon because they retrod the same old topics I’d heard discussed a dozen times, but there was much more variety this year. Perhaps because of Guest of Honour Kate Elliott’s presence, there were lots of panels on different aspects of worldbuilding, which is a subject very much on my mind at the moment as I work on my new secondary world setting. My own panel, But Does it Make Sense: the Economics of Fantasy Worlds, with Kate Elliott, Kari Sperring, Tom Pollock and Leila , had a packed audience despite being at 10am on Saturday morning, and to be honest we could easily have talked for another hour about what turned out to be a fascinating topic.

Samurai McKenna demonstrates what to do when a peasant (Adrian Tchaikovsky) tries to grab your katana!
Samurai McKenna demonstrates what to do when a peasant (Adrian Tchaikovsky) tries to grab your katana!

Another topic that needed more than an hour was The Pen vs the Sword, in which four authors and practising martial artists – Juliet McKenna, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Fran Terminiello and Clifford Beal – talked about sword fights in fiction and demonstrated some cool moves. The panellists and audience ended up relocating to the (closed) bar next to the auditorium for more demonstrations – in fact our only complaint was that the panel should have been a demonstration with discussion, rather than a discussion with a few demonstrations, because it’s much easier to talk about the realities of fighting when you’re able to show it.

It wasn’t all serious panels, either. In addition to the ever-popular Just a Minute hosted by Paul Cornell, on Saturday evening I attended a live edition of Emma Newman’s podcast Tea and Jeopardy, where she interviewed screenwriter Toby Whithouse. I don’t know if they recorded it, but if not, it’s a shame – because now you’ll never know why the audience had to pretend to be chickens singing the Doctor Who theme…

And then there was the disco. This year we had a new DJ, my own editor Marc Gascoigne, who dipped into his vast record collection (and believe me, it’s big – I’ve seen it!) to bring us a mix of tracks from across the decades that left us exhausted but happy. An appropriately geeky highlight was 1988 No 1 hit single, Doctorin’ the TARDIS - complete with official dance. At first, most of the people still on the dance floor from the previous song gave this one a go, but it turned out to be a bit trickier than they’d expected, and soon there were only eight or ten of us dancing. For eight whole minutes. By the end, my legs were like jelly, but boy was it fun!

Next year, FantasyCon moves back to Nottingham, though thankfully not in the shabby Britannia Hotel. I shall be signing up as soon as my bank balance has recovered from this year’s expenses!

Nine Worlds 2014

This weekend (8th-10th August) I was at Nine Worlds Geekfest, a British convention very much in the mould of CONvergence. 2014 is only Nine Worlds’ second year, so it’s something of a work in progress, but it still manages to be one of the best of the UK circuit.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the convention is the programming. In addition to a strong books track, there were tracks on comics, games and various other fandoms (including steampunk, cosplay, Doctor Who and Joss Whedon), and even one for knitting – a welcome surprise, given my recent (re)take-up of the hobby. Some of the tracks were inevitably a little sparse, but with so much variety there was always plenty going on to choose from. Read more

We’re still not your bitches

Yesterday I received an intriguing email from a colleague at work, asking if I would write a 140-word short story for his niece for GISHWHES (a worldwide scavenger hunt hosted by Misha Collins of Supernatural fame), and offering a bottle of booze of my choice as a thank-you. Apparently, it was necessary for the story to be written by a previously published SF author, and I was the only one he knew personally. As my friends and Twitter followers know, I’m a big fan of Supernatural, and the task was so modest (especially in proportion to the reward!), I accepted. Read more

Friday Reads: The Sharing Knife: Beguilement, by Lois McMaster Bujold

For some reason I’ve been very slow in getting into Lois McMaster Bujold’s work; despite reading and enjoying Ethan of Athos many years ago, and loving The Curse of Chalion, it wasn’t until this year that I went beyond that. I was in a mood to read some SF as a palate-cleanser after so much fantasy, so I started her Miles Vorkosigan series at the beginning (of which more another day). Then I discovered there was a one-day conference on her work being held here in Cambridge just after WorldCon (when I happen to be off work), so I decided I’d better read more of her books before going! I bought a couple more of the SF series in ebook form, then remembered that her entire four-book fantasy series The Sharing Knife was gathering dust on my bookshelves (I bought them several years ago, from a work colleague).

The Sharing Knife is very different from your typical European-inspired fantasy – like Peter V Brett’s Demon Cycle, it has a very rural American flavour, like The Little House on the Prairie with monsters. However, whereas Brett’s series is all about the fight against the monsters, The Sharing Knife is basically a romance with a bit of monster-bashing on the side. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; Bujold is such a good writer that she can hook you with charming characters and domestic squabbles as easily as with heart-pounding action.

Read more

Plotting vs Pantsing – it’s not either/or

Over the past year or so I’ve been gearing up to write a new novel, and I’ve had to rediscover my own writing process all over again. Writing The Alchemist of Souls took so long that I barely remember how I got from vague idea to first rough draft, and whilst the two sequels are very recent, they were written so fast it’s something of a blur!

If anything, writing The Merchant of Dreams and The Prince of Lies gave me a very misleading view of how I work. I assumed that because I was able to come up with an outline fairly readily and only needed a couple of drafts before it was ready to polish up and send to my editor, that this was the way it would go for all future books. Turns out, not so much. Read more

CONvergence 2014

Q: What do you get if you put together 6000+ SFF fans, a bunch of outstanding organisers and a great venue? A: CONvergence, a regional convention that’s been running in Minnesota for the past 16 years (and hopefully will continue for many more).

I first heard about CONvergence back in 2012 from then-Angry Robot editor Lee Harris, and as I have a number of writer friends in the Midwest it seemed like the perfect choice for my next US convention. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to go in 2013, but I was determined to make it this year – and I’m very glad I did. Read more

Convention schedule update: CONvergence

This morning I got a nice surprise in my inbox: details of my schedule for CONvergence in Minnesota! I have two panels, one fairly serious, the other…not so much :)

Saturday 5th July

10pm Loki Can Rule Me Any Day – an exploration of side characters who have become fan favourites

11.30pm Science of Sex It’s a necessary biological function – what more can we say about it?

I winced a bit when I saw how late they were, but hopefully I’ll still be operating somewhat on UK time so it will only feel like early evening. I hope to see some of you there – if you want a book signed, just ask! (Preferably not when I’m eating/in the loo/otherwise busy…)

Mini blog tour – and mega giveaway!

The other day I realised it was almost two years since the publication of The Alchemist of Souls - time flies when you’re chained to your desk writing sequels! As it happens, I also started getting invitations to guest post on various blogs, which has turned into a mini blog tour.

Plus there’s a big giveaway on Fantasy Faction this month, with three copies of The Prince of Lies and one full set of the trilogy up for grabs!

Here’s the schedule:

It’s good to be blogging again after a slow winter – hope you enjoy the posts!

“Lost” 17th century fencing manual – now in print!

On Saturday 22nd March I attended the launch of a very exciting non-fiction book – an English translation of Nicoletto Giganti‘s second fencing manual, which until very recently had been lost to history.

The story of its discovery is up there with that of Tutankhamen’s tomb: a missing piece of the historical jigsaw that had faded almost into legend, suddenly found by a couple of bold adventurers. Admittedly the journey of discovery required only a visit to the Wallace Collection in central London, not to Egypt, but for those of us who love Renaissance history, it was just as exciting. Read more