Chopper on Tour: Edge-Lit 2016

After that frankly pants first half of 2016 (see previous posts) I was looking forward to a day out in Derby. Time to get back in the saddle, dive back into the genre, go see some very good friends and caress some very good books. Yes, I like books. You might already have guessed.

Edge-Lit never disappoints. Alex Davis and his team of non-expendable Redshirts can cope with pretty much everything a summer’s day in Derby city centre can throw at them, up to and including a Caribbean carnival and a king-sized showroom’s worth of high-revving hot ride motorbikes on the pavement outside the bar. Which was what happened, obviously. Sometimes there’s only so much bass you can physically take before you have to retreat into the murky depths of Derby itself in search on bass-uninflected caffeine rations.

I still remember being the hyper-hyper newbie at my first AltFiction (as it was back in t’day) and even back then the whole con seemed a welcoming a cheerful place. On my first day I waited outside a sandwich shop while Ian Watson got a bacon buttie on his way in to the venue. That felt bizarre. Coming back the following year, people were waving to me even before I got through the door. It’s that sort of convention. Hopefully the Sheffield SF Writers who made the trip this time – David R Lee, Kathryn Wild, David Sarsfield – felt that level of positivity too. I know Dave L thoroughly enjoyed his workshop with M John Harrison, and David Sarsfield was making his debut as a published member of the Fox Spirit Skulk, which is a positive force in its own right.

It took me a while to settle down this time, though the red wine at the combined NewCon/Fox Spirit launch definitely helped matters. David Tallerman’s short Cthlonic “school report” reading was a highlight, though I couldn’t really afford the hardback of his collection and came away instead with Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Apt collection and VC Linde’s poetry based on three words selected by a collection of different authors (if that makes sense). I’m not usually a great fan of poetry, but the whole concept was interesting enough to draw me in.

Before that launch there were the obligatory panel sessions to attend. The morning panels were more up my street than the afternoon ones. Alistair Reynolds, Ian Whates, Nina Allan and Adele Wearing asked if small presses were producing the best SF (the answer was a resounding yes, if you needed to ask). Marc Turner took the chair for a journey through the landscape of literary fiction and its on-off relationship with genre, with Jen Williams, Edward Cox and Cherry Potts all somehow managing to not mention Michael Moorcock along the way.

Lunch was the now-traditional stagger (wine, remember…) through the covered market in search of a £1 tray of chips. And after that exhaustion kicked in as hard as the carnival bass, meaning that the afternoon became a blur of coffee, juice and sitting down in various combinations. Team Newman (Emma and Pete) combined for Emma’s Guest of Honour interview, with readings from both After Atlas and the forthcoming fourth volume of the Split Worlds saga – which I probably shouldn’t have listened to, given that I still haven’t read the third… As ever Team Newman went the extra mile in making more of the time and the format.

With the Edge Lit Quiz on hold this year, the evening’s entertainment belonged to the Super Relaxed Fantasy Club, hosted by Jen Williams and Pete Newman, with guests Jason Arnopp and Maria Lewis. I’m fairly ambivalent about werewolves in fiction although Maria’s take on the monsters seemed agreeably uncuddly and bloody. Jason’s Last Days of Jack Sparks on the other hand is pitched much better to my caustic, agnostic self.

We shall draw a veil over the shenanigans of the Pinborough-helmed raffle, save only to say that it was not for the faint of heart. And, as I warned various folks beforehand, never sit near the front….

Over at the Fox Spirit Books stall, Adele Wearing and Daz Pulsford kindly agreed to make room for a small pile of (the British Fantasy Award-nominated – have I mentioned that yet?) Heir to the North. I was well chuffed and over the moon to discover that they all sold. I love you, whoever you are 🙂

Taking my cue from Alex Bardy, who this year cosplayed as one of the Expendables and carried it off with remarkable aplomb, I used a few spare moments to point people at other people., networking by proxy. I can point you all at Dan Grace and Gemma Todd, both names to watch out for in the future. Dan’s novella Winter is out now through Unsung Stories, and Gemma’s novel Defender is out early next year from Headline.

Jen Williams and Edward Cox were a delights to talk to, and Adrian Tchaikovsky was very kind. It’s always a pleasure to talk to Shellie Horst and Susan Boulton (Hand of Glory – coming soon!) Other SFSF regulars – Marc Turner, Dan Godfrey, Andy Angel, David Tallerman, Ian Sales – crossed my path and reminded me that it is probably well past time to start planning more events. Which is part of the reason me and Sara Smith were there anyway, to get our collective heads back into gear following the last few months. So no need to worry on that score – SFSF will return.

Amongst the EdgeLit debuts this year was author, editor and Bristolcon-wrangler Joanne Hall. Standing in at short notice for Pete Sutton, it was brilliant to see her again and give some power to the Grimbold presence at the con. T-shirts featuring a fox and a cat riding a dragon were mentioned in all seriousness in conversations with Auntie Fox…

Lastly, it’s not a convention without swag. Some of it is still hidden in the car until I can sneak it all in (I hope Rachel isn’t reading this…) but as well as the Tchaikovsky and Linde, I picked up Dan Godfrey’s New Pompeii, Jen Williams’ The Silver Tide, and Paul Kane’s Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell. The TBR is teetering on the verge of collapse. I wanted a copy of Pete Newman’s The Vagrant as well, but the bookstall ran out of that before I could get to it. Bah. Still hope to have read it and Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown by the time Fantasycon comes around, which means I’ll have read the whole Best Newcomer shortlist.

So, a very successful – if exhausting – day. If I met you and haven’t mentioned you, it’s mostly because I may have been on remote control at that point…

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Sledge-Lit: The Final Chopper On Tour 2015 Post!

It’s been a long year, and it isn’t quite over yet. But the Chopper On Tour tag is bedding down for hibernation through the winter, after one last hurrah at Derby’s Sledge-Lit event.

And what a hurrah it was! Sledge-Lit turned out to be a very good way to wind down. Alex Davis had done his usual bang-up job of inviting interesting guests of honour – Charles Stross, Alison Moore, Rob Shearman and Adam Roberts – and surrounded them with a host of panels, readings and workshops designed to make you want to be in three places at once. I’m at the point – I think – where workshops aren’t going to add an awful lot to what I already know, so I can’t comment too much on them (there may be a blog post from Sheffield’s SFF Writers’ Group later on that covers one or two of the workshops). Aside from that, I was somewhat busy anyway…

The first panel of the day was on the value of subgenres in fantasy & SF. With me were Julia Knight, Susan Boulton, Rod Duncan, and Gavin Smith. Because of family stuff, I had questions, but I hadn’t been able to pass them around in advance. As a first-time panel moderator/chair, I came into it feeling a bit like a support act without instruments. That soon passed – even though the panel helpfully touched on all of my questions within the first five minutes! – and hopefully we made for an interesting start to the day.

Some good questions came from Andrew Bannister, whose first book comes out through Transworld next year. I managed to miss the panel about small presses while chatting to him and David Tallerman (the new TOR novella is well worth getting hold of), after which it was time to take a break from taking a break and go out for chips (now a firmly-established tradition for me in Derby…). With my SFSF hat on there were brief conversations with Penny Reeve, Helen Armfield, Natasha Pulley, and Tony Ballantyne, as well as a chat with Simon Marshall-Jones, whose Biblia Longcrofta I’ve recently finished reading. Recommended, by the way.

Then it was time for the second panel of the day – the flip side of the subgenre discussion – Is Fantasy Broadening As A Genre? Well, yes, obviously, and a good thing too, was the general consensus from Alex, Julia, Natasha, Stephen Aryan and myself. We wandered over the genre landscape and dished out some sterling recommendations, and I had a bit more of a relaxing time of it since Alex was moderating this one. Fueled by increasing amounts of coffee, I even manned the TTA Press stall for a couple of minutes while Roy popped away. Don’t worry, I know retail. I didn’t sell anything though…

Apart from a few copies of Heir To The North, which is always a bonus. 🙂

For my final panel of the day, I was hiding in the audience, listening to Jacey Bedford rein in Adam Roberts so that Amanda Rutter, Gavin Smith and Andrew Bannister could get a word in edgeways on the subject of dystopian SF.

The Edge-Lit raffle is a thing of legend – almost as legendary as the SFSF raffle, in fact – and if you squinted hard enough and ate enough of Brian Marshall’s vodka jelly babies, you could probably confuse Robert Shearman for Sarah Pinborough. I didn’t win anything, but it’s the taking part that counts….

One thing I didn’t get was any photos – if anybody has some, I’d be happy to see them! And so, with the 2015 leg of Chopper On Tour concluded, it’s time to get some words laid out on TFL and start the planning for next year….

Chopper On Tour 2015: Sledge-Lit Schedule

What are you doing on Saturday 21st November? And why aren’t you doing it at Quad, in Derby, in the company of the good folks at Sledge-Lit? Well, if you are there, you stand a very good chance of being able to buy a paperback copy of Heir To The North from one of the tables in the Dealers’ Room. I’ll quite happily sign it for you too, assuming you like your frontispieces besmirched with angular scribbles.

You’ll also be able to see yours truly at the following panel items during the day:

10:30-11:20: Break it Down – The Value of Subgenre in SF and Fantasy Sponsored by Verse Publishing Susan Boulton, Rod Duncan, Julia Knight, Steven Poore (Chair), Gavin Smith

1:30-2:20: Spreading Your Wings – Is Fantasy Broadening as a Genre? Stephen Aryan, Charlie Fletcher, Julia Knight, Steven Poore, Natasha Pulley

A couple of immediate thoughts: these panels kinda walk hand in hand together, looking at two sides of the same coin. The first one I see more as a technical writer’s question (for example: is it healthy for an author to gain a reputation as working within a subgenre? Can that be a trap?); the second is probably one of vision and inclusion for both readers and writers, especially relevant given the recent shenanigans at conventions over in the US. There’s some very interesting folk on both panels.

Oh, and yes, I’m moderating that first panel. There’s nowt quite like the deep end, is there?

 

We Have A Roy – EdgeLit 2015

EdgeLit is a highlight of my calendar, and as close to a “home convention” as it is possible to get right now – I’ve attended each of the previous three events in Derby, and I certainly wasn’t going to break the habit this year. Not least because I had a reputation and a crown to defend…

That crown being EdgeLit Quiz Champion, of course. Our team – Kevin Redfern, Hayley Orgill, Alex Bardy, Roy Gray, and myself – have beaten allcomers for the last two years, and we were looking for an unprecedented third win in a row. This year’s quiz promised to be a mighty tight and difficult affair, with organiser, host, MC and all-round decent chap Alex Davis out to break our winning streak… but more on that later.roy2

EdgeLit has grown year on year into an absolute must. Guests included Joanne Harris, Mike Carey, Samantha Shannon, Claire North, Paul McAuley, and John Connolly; workshops were being run by Kim Lakin-Smith, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Rod Duncan, Jenny Colgan, and Gav Thorpe amongst others; the programme was packed full of book launches from exciting British small presses, panels, readings, and the now-infamous Edge-Lit Raffle. It’s a two-day con condensed down into a single day, and there’s so much to do and so many people to chat to that it’s outright impossible to do everything you’ve marked as interesting on the schedule (although that didn’t stop one member of our writers’ group trying!).

That’s not a criticism, by the way – hell no, it’s the mark of a good convention. I used the schedule as a starting point, and then just wandered about. Stephen Deas chaired an interesting discussion on the interface between history and fantasy fiction, although it was obvious early on that all the panellists were on the same page; Fox Spirit author and SFSF Social regular Jo Thomas launched her new book Pack of Lies alongside Alec McQuay and writers from Boo Books. Spectral Press launched three novellas – Stephen Volk’s Leytonstone really did catch my attention, although by that point I was already running low on funds. One for the future, however.

Gary Compton, main man behind Tickety Boo Press, had come down from the North-East with a truckload of books to sell. I helped set his table up, just outside the main dealers’ room. I recommend you buy Goblin Moon, Abendau’s Heir, The Last War, Oracle, A Prospect of War – it’s a bloody good catalogue he’s building up there. He had cakes too; I managed to stop myself eating more than one.

I hadn’t seen Kate Laity for several years – not since AltFiction in Leicester – so it was cool to be able to say hi to her and get a signature on my copy of White Rabbit. I also chatted to David Tallerman (who will be running a workshop at Nine Worlds later this year), Ian Sales (also promoting the fourth volume in the Apollo Quartet; more on that when I’ve read it), Aunty Fox Adele Wearing, Paul Kane and Marie O’Regan, Amanda Rutter.

Oh, and there was a quiz too. Did I mention that?

See, we have a secret weapon – we have a Roy.roy1

Roy promotes TTA Press titles – Interzone, Black Static, novellas – at pretty much every convention in the UK. But to say he just does that would be doing him a great disservice. A convention without him would be a dull place indeed. And believe me, he knows his stuff.

Did we win?

Just a bit.

🙂