BristolCon can be summed up in four words. Ten buckets of awesome. It was so much fun. Joanne Hall did an amazing job as Chair (as she has done since it started) I was really nervous going on my own because usually I go with hubster or Nakama. Sadly, I missed the first talk because my bus was late but I was kept busy by my goody bag and the stalls. I even bought a few Christmas presents. I’ll start off with the stalls. There was a room full of the usual stuff you get at cons, crafts and jewellery, stuff from Forbidden Planet and a comic book shop, as well as few authors and artists selling their own stuff. The FP stand had Grimbold Books, stuff by Emma Newman, Anna Lyle, Snorri Kristianson, Mark Lawrence and a dozen other authors and artists I have admired for years, including Jim Burns who had a stall in the artists’ room. Most of it was signed as well or could be signed as quite a lot of the authors were there.
Now at this point I have to say thank you to my new mate and fellow Grimboldian (yes, I’m making up a noun, move along) Sophie E Tallis, who is just amazing, for her photos as all of mine of the con were pants. I will post them as we go. As I said, I missed the first talk as my bus was late so I waited around and hunted through my goody bag, which included a free book, ‘Veteran’ by Gavin Smith, a sci-fi novel. I read the blurb and the first few pages and it looks good. I have half term this week so I will be reading.
I also got some book marks, a Grimbold books wristband and a few postcards. After I had rooted through my bag, and eaten my yoghurt, it was time for Jo’s reading from her steampunk novel ‘Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion.’ I was blown away (and I am not just saying that because she is my editor). It was incredible and has made it onto the ever growing Christmas list. Sammy still hadn’t arrived (she’d been helping her sister move until 2am) so I went to the panel on common writing problems. The panelists were Anne Lyle, writer of the Night’s Masque series. Terry Jackman, a woman of all trades writer, editor, reviewer, speaker, tutor, Orbit Coordinator at British Science Fiction Association amongst other things, Gareth L Powell winner of the 2013 BSFA Award for ‘Ack-Ack-Macaque’ and Snorri Kristjánsson, the Icelandic writer of ‘The Valhalla Saga’ and all round funny man.
The panel gave some really good advice about lots of things but here are the top tips that I have gleaned:
1. Editors are not usually the enemy. Editing is a two way street and it is important that you listen to them but also respond (politely) if their suggestions don’t work for you. Be open to criticism and be aware that your manuscript is your baby. It is natural to get a little defensive because you are too close to it but an editor wants to prune away all the bad stuff and make it even better. Usually. It is important to be aware of objective and subjective criticism. You want objective criticism because it is constructive.
2. Writer’s block. Now this was interesting because all of the panelists had a different view. Gareth said that nothing cures it like a deadline, Anne suggested that you write a silly scene to reinvigorate yourself, Terry suggested re-reading and avoiding to strict a structure. Snorri gave the most interesting advice (in my opinion): accept that bad is happening and move through the fear. It is ok to write badly because you can fix it in editing. All of them agreed that doing something non writing related helps unfurl your mind. Especially if you are writing a short story, it lets the mind-goblins, as Gareth put it, work and polish what you’re thinking about.
3. Description is not as helpful as you think it is. I am so guilty of this, it isn’t funny. Huge chunks of description slow the narrative down and cause problems with pacing. It also stops the reader from fully interacting with the work. You take away all of their autonomy when over describing, you get in the way of imagination. It’s not a movie. Give them hints, let them imagine, let them make it theirs.
4. No writing is ever wasted. If you have a sucky premise and you have to ditch it, ditch it. You are now able to recognise crap writing and be better.
5. Side characters are allowed to become more interesting than your main characters at times. No man is an island after all. Snorri’s best kine was ‘Be a cruel and vengeful god.’ Make sure you are challenging your characters.
After that, Sammy had arrived (Hurray!) and we went to meet some people. First of all she introduced me to Anne-Mhairi Simpson who is working on an incredible table top game called ‘Be a Bard’. The premise of it is you have cards, which help you construct a story and you have to get rid of all your cards to win. They have pictures with genres you have to match to continue the story. She wants to make textured cards so it becomes multi-sensory for autistic kids, an idea I love. We played a round in the afternoon with a few friends we picked up. Needless to say, it got very rude, very quickly.
Before all that, Sammy and I wandered around, looking at the stalls. She introduced me to Will Macmillan Jones, another writer Sammy knows and writer of ‘The Banned Underground’ series. I bought ‘The Vampire Mechanic’ as each book is stand alone rather than chronological and a load of other very funny stuff.
Sammy introduced me as one of Grimbold’s newest authors and got me to pitch ‘Cruelty’ while she wandered off. Will was lovely and listened while I stuttered and explained. I may be a teacher but other adults scare me. He gave me some amazing advice. ‘Just go for it. Be passionate. You wrote something that someone else wants to publish. Go for it.’
It was then that we bumped into Sophie, who I instantly loved and I don’t like people straight off. She is another Grimbold author, writer of ‘White Mountain’ which will be released soon. She is also a fabulous artist as was demonstrated by her dragon on her tshirt. She drew it herself for ‘White Mountain’ which I also cannot wait to read. We stood and chatted for a while before bumping into Alistair from Books on the Hill. an independent bookshop in Bristol, which has agreed to stock one copy of all Grimbold titles at first and see how it goes.
Sammy, Sophie, Alistair and I spent most of the morning and early afternoon together. We went to the talk on Influences, which Jo was on. It was really good at looking at both positive and negative influences, from novels, T.V., films etc and how they can help and hurt our writing. It made me giggle because I recently realised that Cornelius has been very heavily influenced by Dante from Devil May Cry. My world shattered when I realised this but with a few tweaks etc. he will become his own man.
After that panel, we went for lunch, but went past the book swap table where Sammy grabbed me ‘Empire of the Saviours’ by A.J. Dalton. She sang his praises from the mountain tops so I am looking forward to this one.
The four of us sat and chatted for ages, about books we love, what we’re writing,what we enjoy and don’t enjoy about our day jobs, everything really. Afterwards Alistair had to leave and Sammy, Sophie and I went to the Fragmentation of Fandom, which talked about how there are so many niches within fandom and how fan can be a positive and a negative word. We finally managed to get a chance to sit down with Jo and have a chat about the Con and writing stuff, as well as playing ‘Be a Bard.’ We met a load of other interesting people and talked about our writing. After a while Jo and her partner Chris had to go and sort some things out for other panels so we stayed talking with Will and Sophie and a few other people we’d met.
I really enjoyed my time there and the longer I was there, the more comfortable I became. Sammy and Jo are going to be looking at other cons for 2015 and I really hope I can go to a few so I’m going to start saving. Sammy, sweetheart that she is, bought me a Totoro necklace which I love as a memory of my first writer’s con. I will deffo be going next year and to as many others as I can afford.
Until next week and enjoy Sophie’s photos below.