Chopper On Tour – Triumph in Nottingham!

Welcome to Fantasycon! Photo: Joel Cornah
Welcome to Fantasycon!
Photo: Joel Cornah

I guess there’s a serious amount of ego and hubris involved in using the word “triumph” in the title of this blog post, and I’m usually a little more modest than that, but at the same time everybody’s got the right to blow their own trumpet once in a while and if this ain’t the time then I’ve no idea when will be, so Triumph in Nottingham it is, because Triumph in Nottingham it was!

You may have been aware that Heir to the North was launching officially at Fantasycon this year, with a proper slot in the programme and everything. If you didn’t know, then Grimbold Books’ incredible co-chief conspirator Sammy Smith made sure everybody did by the end of Saturday by also launching a very natty line in HTTN promotional t-shirts for us all to wear. Like the Fox Spirit Skulk at Edge-Lit, it turned the Grimbold posse into a brilliantly visible presence throughout the rest of Fantasycon. I reckon that helped pull in a few people for the launch itself, and it certainly made the table in the dealers’ room busier.

Grimbold posse
Photo: Joel Cornah

The launch itself – aside from mild-to-severe panic beforehand, kept pretty much under control with much appreciated help from Jo Thomas¹ – was an absolute blast. With launch music by The Fall (played through gritted teeth by Jo Hall²), I read from a fight scene in chapter five and answered questions, and then signed books for a crowd that included folks I’d never met before. That’s an incredible thing: I could happily get used to that.

Photo: Sophie E Tallis
Photo: Sophie E Tallis

The best part was that when the room emptied, the table in the dealers’ room suddenly got very busy as a result. Awesome stuff, and a day I’m not going to forget in a hurry, even if I’m having trouble remembering half of it even now (that ol’ flight or fight thing going on in the background…). But what was the rest of the convention like?

In contrast to last year’s FCon in York, where panel items happened down at the far end of long corridors, and you ran the risk of encountering a small boy on a pedal cart in the darkness, Nottingham’s De Vere Conference Venue was laid out with everything set in a square around the edges of the main Conference Theatre, in a sort of Roman villa arrangement. You could walk right around the square and see all the panel and reading rooms, the dealers’ room, and the two bars (one serving alcohol, the other intermittently not serving anything at all depending on which way the wind was blowing), and the little break-out spaces. And despite everything being closer together and the convention itself being a sell-out, it didn’t feel crowded.

Photo: Adele Wearing
Photo: Adele Wearing

That’s got a lot to do with the schedule itself. Richard Webb had done an ace job as event co-ordinator, and I could have gone to two fascinating panels in different rooms at every hour of the day, with readings and launches always competing for attention. I’m fairly sure everybody was in panels most of the time, which explains why the bar was never crammed full (well, that and the stupefying lack of food available at the venue).

As it was, I actually ended up seeing very little across the weekend, spending more time chatting and generally getting around. The Diversity in Genre was very well supported, and an hour well-spent – Laurel Sills, Naomi Foyle, Joanne Hall, Joel Cornah, Anna Smith-Spark, and Isabel Yap are all names worth following. A marketing panel moderated by Adele Wearing didn’t illuminate all the great secrets I had been hoping for but was useful nonetheless, and with my SFSF hat on I introduced myself to Gollancz’s Sophie Calder afterwards.

Last year, the disco on Saturday night was a stunning combination of book deals, bad dancing, and vodka. This year, with Sunday on my mind, I found myself trekking across Nottingham in search of a Sainsbury’s instead, and hid the packs of muffins and bottles of wine in the car rather than take them into the hotel to face the judgemental stares of the night staff. Friday night had been a different matter – karaoke courtesy of Abaddon Books: I wheeled out the big guns and swung the mic to the Cutting Crew.BobDylanSmileyBuzz There’s video footage of Lee Harris (Desperado) and David Moore (Werewolves of London) which I would happily use as blackmail material if those performances weren’t so damned good. Curses, foiled again!

And talking of tour-de-force performances, the stand-out reading of the weekend was given by Anna Smith-Spark, from her agented but currently unsigned queer existential grimdark novel The Court of Broken Knives. In those shoes, with that subgenre, and a background in performance poetry to draw upon, a reading that climaxed with cries of “Death! Death! DEATH! DEATH!” was always going to be a damned hard act to follow. That book needs a home, and quick.

Brain bleach is needed to drive from my mind the conversation about BizarroCon in America early next month. Dude, watch that cattle-prod. I headed back to the Boo! Books table in the dealers’ room for more vodka-laced gummy bears after that one. Edward Cox recited his one-star Goodreads “review” (more like a bilious fart than a review). Marc Turner and Daniel Godfrey hung out at the bar; the Sinister Horror Company and Unsung Stories were great to chat to; Will MacMillan-Jones was indefatigable; the Redcloaks were stellar; there were so many people and I have so little memory…

That's not a knife...
That’s not a knife…

And of course, there were the awards. Last year I live-tweeted them; this year I left that to the BFS team and just enjoyed the ceremony. Every single nominated author, artist and publisher was deserving of their success and recognition. The winners all deserved their wins. Especially, from my point of view, Juliet McKenna³ as part-recognition for her brilliant hard work on the VATMOSS quagmire (on top of a massive catalogue of fifteen novels and more stories besides), and the drop-kick ace Fox Spirit Books as Best Small Press.

Let’s do it all again, shall we? See you in Scarborough next year!

¹Buy her books.
²Buy her books.
³Buy her books.

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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.

🙂

SFSF Social #1 – In the Aftermath

aka – What We Did The Other Weekend. Both Adrian and Jo were fantastic guests at the first SFSF Social, and from what I heard on the night I heartily recommend both Guns of the Dawn and 25 Ways to Kill a Werewolf. It was excellent to be able to get so many SFF fans in one room in Sheffield too – and we’re doing it all again on 1st March, at the Old Queen’s Head, with Dana Fredsti and Ian Sales. Come join us!

Sheffield Fantasy & Science Fiction Social Club

Hello everyone!

This is my first post on the SFSF Social Blog, which is rather exciting! For those who were there, I was the quiet hobbly one (not to be confused with Hobbity, as I am the tallest of the three of us behind yesterday’s (Okay, I started this the next day…. but things happened) and future events!) For those who weren’t, I’m Sara, and I do lots of stuff, and one of them is helping with this!!

SFSF Organisers Your Hosts here at SFSF

As you’ll know, yesterday (Okay.. yes it’s a couple of weeks now… ) was the first SFSF Social (huzzah!) And from what I can see, we all loved it. All in all we had over 30 people from not just Sheffield, but as far as York and Stafford and other places too, gathering at Eten Cafe to get together, chat, network, and listen to our guests of honour…

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All Quiet on the Northern Front…

…but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing happening. We’re into the Long Wait (available on request from all good shops, of course) that inevitably happens at this point of the publishing process, but HTTN is still on schedule. That means it’s time for other projects to take precedence.

ED5, for example. The Empire Dance is getting progressively more difficult to write, thanks to my insistence on threading together four or five plots at the same time, but I’m aiming to have Weapons Free! blocked out to full length by the end of December, at which point it should be on course for release in the late spring. In the previous volumes I’ve skirted around the edges of various battles, but ED5 features a real humdinger between First Fleet and the Irian taskforce sent to capture Belsea – it’s not as easy to pull it all together as I thought it would be.

Meanwhile, there are other story threads to knit back into the main narrative, and other “lost” characters to focus upon. To whet your appetites, here’s a little snippet of one of them…

When he opened his eyes, everything looked flat. Instinctively, he knew that something was missing; that his senses had been stripped to their most basic. To the core.
Core. That was an important word. He had a core; he was a core.
He closed his eyes again and attempted to recalibrate his visual cortex. He plucked diagnostic programs from his most immediately accessible files, rewrote them, and promptly discarded them when they failed to appreciably improve his biological functions.
He reopened his eyes. The view was still blandly three-dimensional, and available only from a singular perspective.
A face loomed into view above him; he adjusted the focal length of his vision. It was not yet a perfect reflex, he noted with mild disappointment.
“He’s coming out of it,” the medical officer said. “You’d better contact the High Admiral.”
“Of course.” This second voice was mellifluous, modulated and controlled. He could not fail to recognise it.
The face moved aside again. The room busied with activity. He listened to it all, analysing and filing it for later reference. At the same time he began to test the outer reaches of his new home. His new containment. He needed to be able to control the limbs of this body. Only then could he begin to control what lay outside of it.

After ED5 is put to bed, I’ll be turning in earnest to the next proper novel-length project, code-named TFL, which needs thorough outlining. HTTN & HKV were “pantsed” for the most part – I knew where I was starting from, and I knew where I was heading for, but everything inbetween was a mystery until I got there – but TFL feels like it needs a more considered approach.

On top of the writing, there’s a new, more socially-oriented project that I’m involved with too, and that really kicks off in January. You may have heard already of the Sheffield Fantasy & Science Fiction Social Club. If not, then I invite you to click this linky thingy to find out more about it. If you’re SoYo-based, or you fancy dropping by the Steel City on January 24th to hear Adrian Tchaikovsky and Jo Thomas read from their new works, shout up and join!

Right. This book ain’t gonna write itself…