Alt Fiction was a grand success – both as author and as fanboy (and the sentiment “I’m fanboy first and writer second” seemed to be generally seconded by everyone that I met). As you can see from the schedule in the previous post, there was something for pretty much everyone, and I’m very grateful to Alex Davis for the opportunity of being a part of it. To the best of my knowledge a definite nod in the direction of Writing West Midlandsis due as well, as I have the idea that they put a lot of support in. For anyone who didn’t go, and especially for fans, aspiring writers and the like who have never been to this sort of convention, I can only encourage you to grab the next opportunity with both hands. The content is good, and the community – writers and fans – is very open.

It’s well worth keeping an eye on the Un:bound website where I think the various podcasts are going to be hosted, when they’ve hacked them into a recognisable format. For myself I caught the Steampunk and acquitted myself reasonably well in Genre Classics and Mythology (1) but there were a host I didn’t get to see that I want to catch – military SF. shared worlds, genre vs mainstream and so on.

I won’t give a blow by blow here, but one unanticipated side effect of the weekend was that I ended up with a prodigious list of new authors and books to try, so I thought I would pitch a quick rundown of my discoveries and rediscoveries because why not? I’m going to try and link everyone’s blogs, too, because that’s the done thing (at least according to the relevant panel I attended). Preps to my peeps. Or whatever the hell. I’m hip.

Dan Abnett isn’t exactly a discovery, given that he must rate as one of the most prolific writers in history (40 books in 24 years, plus a continuous comics output!) but he does get overlooked because he’s best known for tie-in work, such as Dr Who and Warhammer 40k (2) and this often gets dismissed for not being ‘serious writing’ (3). We got a reading of the start of his Triumff, as a result of which I now own it, along with his new book, Embedded, which promises to be just as good. This is also an example of the excellent titles that Angry Robot are putting out these days.

I ran into Adam Christopher in the Steampunk podcast – his Empire State is coming in December this year, also from Angry Robot, and has gone on my want list – he seems to be something of a doyenne of Facebucket and Twitter as well, and had a lot of interesting things to say on the Publicising your Writing panel.

As he brought it up in the panel, and as I literally finished the last few pages on the train on the way to Alt Fiction, I should say that Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker is also a damn good read. I’m also cheating by plugging Tony Ballantyne because I read his Blood and Iron a while ago, but I went to his reading and he did read a concise and elegant story about ants from Nature magazine (6). At the same time (7) Rod Rees gave us an excerpt from his Demi Monde: Winter which I now also own. In fact going back to the hotel on the Saturday ventured into hernia territory with the sheer weight of books I picked up.

Readings, incidentally, are always tricky. They tend to lose out against panels and the like, which are necessarily running at the same time, and all but the most fan-mobbed authors will always turn up wondering if anyone will show at all. Alt Fiction managed to make two good calls here: firstly, giving the readings a small room, so that even a modest turnout became a decent crowd, and secondly by pairing authors, so that nobody ended up absolutely on their own (8).

After the publishing panel, at which my own editor, the elusive Julie Crisp (9), failed to show owing to illness, the next round of readings were Ian Whates, reading from his new City of Hope and Despair (sequel to last year’s City of Dreams and Nightmares) as well as a 10 second alliterative short story. Ian is somehow keeping up not only that fantasy series, but a science fiction series as well (The Noise Within/The Noise Revealed) and editing about a thousand anthologies. I sit here with my full time job and family and World of Warcraft account and wonder how he fits it all in. Ian was paired with Colin Harvey who gave us a slice of the bleak near-future of Damage Time. It is getting a little concerning, on a global level, that all the near future stuff I read nowadays is quite so plausibly bleak. Perhaps all those environmentalists have a point, hmm?

The reading I did with Gav Thorpe was pleasantly attended, for my part mostly because I wouldn’t shut up about it to everyone I ran into earlier in the day. In the end, I read the Mantis/Empire fight from Salute the Dark and then a semi-comic short story entitled ‘Rapture’, for its first proper airing ever. Gav himself read a suitably brutal piece from The Crown of the Blood.

Finally for the Saturday (and yes, there was something even later than Gav and my graveyard shift reading spot), I ended up as part of a collective effort on Down Memory late, with Pete Crowther, Paul Cornell and everyone else in the audience, as everyone dusted off their rose-tinted spectacles to give three genre classics apiece – which quickly turned into those books we most remembered from childhood. I think I had actually read over half the titles mentioned, which surprised me – the biggest gap being the hardcore vintage SF end of things. My own maundlin darlings were Wolfe’s Soldier of the Mists, Wynne Jones’ Power of Three and Paul Biegel’s The Seven-Times Search.

After a late night drinking, arguing about Robert E. Howard and, I think, having Stephen Deas propose an all-author RPG session (10) I did manage to crawl out of bed for “A Writer’s Life” panel the next morning, and perhaps the set of baggy, red-veined eyes that met the audience told them more about the writers’ life than anyone wanted to know – unless it was Gav Thorpe demonstrating the fine art of deadlines by pitching up late.

After that, I caught Paul Cornell reading a section from his upcoming book Cops and Monsters, coming out next year from Tor, which he places in the metropolitan-police-procedural-urban-fantasy genre, which he and Ben Aaronovitch have fenced out between them (11). Sharing that slot was Rob Shearman, whose book Everyone’s Just So So Special is not actually available yet, so more fool me for not grabbing a copy when I had the chance. However, and having heard a great many very fine readers over the weekend (not least Mr Cornell who had to follow him), I take my hat off to Rob for a piece not only masterfully written, but read to within an inch of its life, from comedy to tragedy, with the audience held in the palm of his hand. Seriously, and without hyperbole, if you get the chance to hear Shearman read, do it!

And home, after that, obviously.

(1) remarkably in the latter case as I was a late shoe-in and had done zero prep. However K.A. Laity brought up the Kalevala right at the start which led me to Michael Scott Rohan’s Winter of the World series (still a favourite of mine) and after that I never looked back.

(2) Understatement of the month. I’ve had a friend eulogise to me on the subject for the best part of an hour explaining how Mr A is basically the patron saint of Warhammer 40k continuity.

(3) There is no rule that says a tie-in book must be a bad book (4). However, the curse of the franchise must lead to certain marketing types who have the attitude that “they’ll buy it/watch it/wear it just because it has an X logo on it”, where X is any established brand you care to name. That there are some very poor tie-in books out there is likely due, by my best guess, to this sort of thinking, which holds that the actual quality of the book will not notably affect its saleability – any dross will do (5). There are some very good tie-in books out there, it’s just incumbent on the readership to show that they appreciate the quality, rather than just the label.

(4) And I’m not just saying that in case someone should ask me to write one, although on an unrelated note I am very, very available for Dr Who work…

(5) Coincidentally the title of the new reality TV talent show.

(6) All right, it wasn’t about ants. It involved ants. Filtered through my obsessions, however, anything even vaguely related to ants becomes “about ants”.

(7) Immediately after, rather. It wasn’t like duelling pianos or anything.

(8) Unless the other writer doesn’t show. That would be a new low.

(9) Well now she’s the elusive Julie Crisp

(10) This is possibly the geekiest version of the invitation only high-stakes poker game I ever heard. My reaction was “Hell yes!”

(11) Although if we expand the geography I reckon you could fit Jim Butcher in there. Having read most of the Dresden Files series and also Ben’s two novels, DC Peter Grant and PI Harry Dresden would probably have a lot to talk about over a pint.

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