Monday, 8 October 2012

Thoughts on FantasyCon 2012

When I was initially told about FantasyCon I was a little dubious. A con made up of professionals with very few fans in attendance? That seemed like putting the cart before the horse to my mind. And my mind was firmly in fan mode. It’s difficult for me to admit that I’m a writer when the books aren’t on the shelves yet; the war manuals I’m writing for Gollancz aren’t out until next Autumn/Fall. This minor detail aside I figured I could go once and see what all the fuss was about. I’m glad I did.

The Friday began with a long overdue catch up with Tom Pollock on the train journey down to Brighton. Tom has been blazing a critically acclaimed trail with his debut The City’s Son.  Impressive. Worth noting: Tom had people queuing in the corridor trying to get into his reading that evening.

Two handsome Gollancz devils at the mass signing.
Joe Abercrombie (L) and James Barclay (R).
Arriving at FantasyCon was a little surreal. You couldn’t turn around without setting eyes on someone familiar, from bloggers to writers and editors too. Naturally I caught up with my favourite Geek culture terrorists Jared Shurin and Anne Perry (from Pornokitsch). Anne was there in her official guise as Editor for Hodder and Stoughton. I also chewed the fat with fellow Pandemonium contributor Glen Mehn.

The Royal Albion Hotel seemed determined to disappoint. Miserable food, surly staff and barely drinkable lager all served as a huge incentive to wander off, which I duly did. Fortunately I wasn’t alone and enjoyed some Japanese food with Jared, Anne Clark (from Orbit) and Jon Courtenay Grimwood. Fellow diners are rarely more interesting, or more charming than these.

Saturday was particularly important for me as I announced my signing with an agent, one Juliet Mushens of Peters, Fraser and Dunlop. You can read more about that here. ‘Announced’ sounds quite formal, suffice to say we goofed around at the bar taking pictures to upload to Twitter, then hung out with my editor Simon Spanton and Ed Wilson, an agent with Johnson and Alcock.

Saturday morning was a markedly fuzzy affair.
Determined not loaf around entirely I made sure I got myself along to a couple of Masterclasses and a panel. ‘Ask The Editor’ kicked off at 11:00am and was hosted by Nicola Budd from Jo Fletcher Books. The panelists were Simon Spanton, Gillian Redfearn (both from Gollancz), Oliver Johnson (from Hodder and Stoughton) and Duncan Proudfoot (from Constable and Robinson). It was a packed and rather hot room, and plenty of useful areas were covered, from trying to jump a trend bandwagon (don’t), to what to expect from structural and lines edits.

My main take away from the panel, and indeed the whole weekend was succinctly put by Oliver Johnson. ‘Everything is advocacy in a publishing office’ – if people aren’t passionate about the manuscript they aren’t going to talk about it, and they aren’t going to champion it at that all important pitch meeting.

It might seem a little redundant for a Gollancz author to go to a Masterclass on the editorial process, but I was determined to spend my time as a newbie with my ears open and my brain switched on. The class was neatly divided into two sections. The first covered the editors role as a project manager, and what that entailed. The second half was  dedicated to the manuscript itself and the intricacies of structural editing, developing characters, and avoiding the cursed info dump.

Will Hill, author of the Department 19 series.
My second Masterclass was with Will Hill, as I was keen to discover if my novel The Boy with the Porcelain Ears fitted the genre parameters for a Young Adult (YA) Novel. This might sound disingenuous, but I didn’t write Porcelain with YA in mind, despite it being a bildungsroman and covering much of the ground one could expect to find in a YA book. It was a pleasure to hear Will talk about his experiences as a YA writer. The take away from this class was that a writer should essentially tell the story they want to tell, rather than try and second guess what the YA market wants, or what would appeal to an editor. The integrity of the story is paramount.

After a quick power nap (absolutely nothing wrong with it) I was taken to dinner with my new agent and was delighted to spend time with Suzanne Mcleod, Kim Curran, Amy McCulloch and Adam Christopher. And then it was time for that disco, which may go down in history for having the most gladiatorial dance off in the history of dance offs. The guilty parties were one Joe Abercrombie and Tom Pollock (yeah, him again). Some of the moves were too fast to see, other perhaps quantum, shapes were thrown.

Sunday was mainly focused on breakfast (at the excellent JB’s Diner on the King’s Road) and saying goodbye to the people I’d met, including Twitter folk such as @mygoditsraining @babelfishwars and @ktscribbles

I’d just like to thank everyone who had a hand in putting FantasyCon together, and look forward to seeing you again at the next one. I’m a convert through and through.

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