I was in Birmingham this past weekend for the British Fantasy Society’s annual convention. I don’t mind saying, it was a rather strange feeling to be travelling up there. What was meeting up in person for the first time in so long going to be like? As it turned out, it was lovely. It was also rather a relief to find the event was smaller and quieter than some past years’ events, so we could all ease ourselves back into the convention routine. I must have had that conversation independently with at least half a dozen people through the weekend.
This is absolutely no criticism of the convention organisers, to be crystal clear. Putting on any event in the current circumstances is an achievement in itself, and putting on one that was so friendly and sociable, with a varied and interesting programme is a triumph. I was particularly pleased to find myself talking to a good few people attending their first convention, and delighted to hear that they were having a really good time. That bodes well for the Society’s future, along with the Committee’s energetic determination to take the BFS onward and upward.
I very much enjoyed the panels and talks I sat in on, and the panels I was part of went with a swing. We discussed genre-splicing and explored the ways in which mixing and matching different ideas gleaned from wide-ranging reading is a great way to create something new and exciting. I was also part of a discussion about writing as a business. That could have been a tricky one as there’s a lot of outdated and misguided advice out there that needs correcting – but none of us on the panel wanted to crush new writers’ hopes and dreams. Judging from the positive feedback I got all weekend, we struck the right balance.
The Jury’s Inn was a good venue – with the usual allowances to be made for bar staff who’ve never encountered SF and fantasy fans before, plus added pandemic allowances. Conrunners might like to bear it in mind, and there were a range of other hotels within sight of my room for anyone considering a bigger event. As a city centre venue, there are a good range of food options within easy walking distance as well. Granted, driving in was a challenge for my satnav, which ended up having conniptions, but random streets being closed so that tramlines can be laid will only be a temporary state of affairs.
We launched The Green Man’s Challenge, and with Cheryl running the Wizard’s Tower Press table in the dealer’s room, I signed a whole load of other books as well. It was particularly lovely to learn that readers were buying a copy of The Green Man’s Heir, or another title from the series, because they’d enjoyed it so much in ebook they wanted a copy for their shelf.
Next up is Octocon – 1st-3rd October – and that’s a virtual event this year. It’s also free, so I heartily recommend you check it out. I’ll be discussing the resurgence of fantasy on TV, as well as writing fight scenes. I’ll also be doing a reading, so those of you who weren’t at Fantasycon will be able to get a taste of The Green Man’s Challenge online.
On the 30th October, I’ll be heading down the M4 for Bristolcon – an in-person event – which promises to be another step on the road to a new normal after these strange and unpleasant months. It will be lovely to see established pals and to make new friends. As ever, I have no doubt that the convention programme will be excellent.
If I don’t see you at one of these events, let’s hope our paths cross in real life or online real soon.
So that was an interesting experience. I had a lot of fun catching up with pals I haven’t seen for far too long in Gathertown – but I was evidently running the optimum software on a relatively new, hi-spec computer – I know other folk had serious issues with access.
I had some interesting panels which turned into really good conversations – but online panels are much harder work than in-person events, and having no sense of an audience was disconcerting. Plus lack of info on the tech requirements beforehand and ongoing tech issues made for added stress I could well have done without, especially given the heightened level of background stress we’re all living with at the moment.
I watched some very good panels and talks, and being able to catch up with recordings of panels I’d had to leave early because of my own programme commitments was a real plus – but it’s very frustrating trying to decide how long to spend looking at a black screen when you have no idea if the thing you want to see is going to happen in the next two minutes or not at all.
The online art show was wonderful! My reading went very well, and seeing there were actually people there plus a bit of Q&A made for a thoroughly enjoyable session.
Please note – none of these observations are in any sense a criticism of the phenomenally hard working programme, tech and ops teams who did an amazing job in the face of multifarious challenges. There would have been no event without them.
Please also note I’m not getting involved in any of the debates about how things went, here or elsewhere. There are more than enough conversations ongoing. Let’s hope those lead to future conventions capitalizing on the good as well as learning where different decisions beforehand would have led to better outcomes.
Right, back to work 🙂
As you may or may not be aware, this year’s UK Eastercon is an online event – you can find all the details here
I’m on an interesting selection of panels as detailed below. Hopefully these times are now set, but do double check. The unexpected can always crop up at conventions and online events are no exception.
Friday, April 2 21:00
The last 20 Years: Fantasy in the 21st Century
Tiffani Angus, Juliet E McKenna, Jacey Bedford, Ekpeki Donald Oghenechovwe discuss how fantasy has changed, developed and grown since 2000 and talk about their favourite writers, books and trends.
Saturday, April 3 19:00
Fantasy Weapon Smackdown!
Stewart Hotston, Juliet E McKenna, Phil Nanson, Gerry McEvoy
We pit the panellists’ favourite fantasy weapons, from the sublime to the overpowered, to decide which is the greatest of them all. Excalibur or Albion? Lightsabre or well-placed flashlight? Choose your weapon!
Saturday, April 3 21:00
Male Power Fantasy: Can We Stop Now?
Fiona Moore, Tiffani Angus, E.M. Faulds, Juliet E McKenna, Ibtisam Ahmed
Mighty thewed-warriors, dashing starship captains, lone wolf heroes. Pulp sff had its roots a in culture of heterosexual white male dominance and male power fantasies. How do we frustrate these historical cliches and move into brave, diverse, new worlds?
Monday, April 5 12:00
Storytelling through repetition
Robert S Malan, Tiffani Angus, Catriona Silvey, Avery Delany, Juliet E McKenna
Time loops, time travel, and replaying games: how narratives are built by repeating actions & discovering new elements – including building relationships, and positive queer depictions
Amid the ongoing everything, talking to fellow writers and readers does make for a welcome change of pace.
Over on Facebook we went away to the unseen realm as James Chambers, Angel Martinez, Joshua Palmatier, Tamsin Silver and I talked with host Gail Z. Martin/Morgan Brice about the faeries in our fiction. I’ll post a YouTube link when that goes live.
Over on YouTube, you can enjoy Mihaela Marija Perković, Adrian Tchaikovsky and I in conversation as part of the charity event, ConTribution.
If you’re curious about the next Green Man book, you may pick up some clues…
It’s here, and I will be in conversation with Adrian Tchaikovsky and Mihaela Perkovic at 5pm UK time, 6pm Croatian time today. That will be on Zoom, and you’ll be able to see how long my hair is now, after a year without a trim! Plus there are all sorts of other things happening over these two days on Zoom and Discord.
Click here for the Convention website where you will find the timetable as well as full programme details. As well as all sorts of interesting and entertaining things, this offers a great introduction to Croatian fans – hopefully encouraging you to visit European conventions in future, when we can get together again. Meantime, hurrah for technology and the fans who work so hard to put online events together.
A reminder of this particular event’s aims. We’re raising money for earthquake relief in Petrinja and the wider area severely hit in December 2020. The convention is free, so you are invited to donate however much is appropriate to your own situation. You’ll be helping people who have lost their homes in the middle of winter and a global pandemic.
I have something to put in my diary! Croatians are organising this online event to raise money for earthquake relief after a quake on 29th December hit the small town of Petrinja – around 50 km (31 miles) SE from the Croatian capital Zagreb. Numerous, severe aftershocks followed. Seven people died and a lot of people are now without homes in the middle of winter and a global pandemic. Many buildings (which were old, to begin with) are completely uninhabitable and will have to be torn down and rebuilt.
Do get involved! Croatia is a fabulous country with lovely people – and terrific fandom.
So far there is a Facebook event page here
I’ll post full website info and further details as soon as I have them.
Please boost the signal and share the word as far as as fast as you can.
I’ve been pals with multi-faceted writer Steven Savile for years now, so when he asked if I might be interested in doing an event in Sweden, naturally I said yes. A little while later, Jan Smedh of The English Bookshop in Uppsala got in touch to invite me to the evening he was organising for the city’s annual Culture Night. When everything was finalised, we had a mini-SF-Crime convention, with me, Steve, Stephen Gallagher and RJ Barker being interviewed together by way of an introduction, followed by us discussing crime fiction and then a session on fantasy fiction, since one way and another, we’ve all written across both genres. There were intervals for book signing, and to give fans of one genre or the other to come and go as they felt inclined – not least because there were so many other events going on. The city was packed all day.
Now, I’ve only ever met Stephen Gallagher on a handshake-and-hello basis before, and never crossed paths with RJ Barker, but once we met up on Friday, it soon became apparent that Saturday evening would go with a swing, as we chatted about what we write and what we read. That’s exactly how it turned out, as we had different things to say as well as enough interests in common to generate really interesting conversations. We were also made wonderfully welcome by Jan, his wife, and the bookshop staff, as well as by Uppsala’s SF and Fantasy fans. Feeling so at ease made Saturday evening even more fun, and the time simply flew by. The audience certainly seemed to enjoy themselves as much as we did.
Those of you who couldn’t make it will get a flavour of the event in a little while, as Stephen, RJ and I were all interviewed on video by Magnus, another of our new friends, earlier in the day. We did that on the deck of the floating hotel Selma, where we were staying, moored on the river. I’ll post links in due course. Those of you who travel to European conventions should also note that Uppsala fandom are putting in a bid to run the 2023 Eurocon – follow @Uppsala2023 on Twitter to keep in touch with their progress.
Before that – yes, we really did make the most of our time – Jan had arranged for us to have a short introduction to the city’s history and a guided tour of Uppsala Cathedral with a brief visit to the museum now housed in one of the original University buildings. The cathedral is beautiful and full of fascinating memorials and stories – and something of more personal interest. Thanks to local Swedish fan Jonathan, who I first met at the Worldcon in Dublin, I knew to keep a look out for the Green Man carved on a pillar capital as we went round. I could go on and on, but I’d be writing this all day if I attempted a full recap. Put Uppsala on your own holiday destination list, that’s the best idea. Seriously. There are great places to eat as well as everything else to see in the city.
The museum was equally enthralling, and has one of the most ornate and astonishing examples of a Cabinet of Curiosities in the world – the Augsburg Art Cabinet. Other treasures include the original prototype Celsius thermometer. Carl Linnaeus is by no means the only globally renowned scientist that the university is rightly proud of. Mind you, the students Linnaeus sent out worldwide to collect his samples often came to an unexpected and early end… Of course, as authors, we love this sort of thing, so I suspect echoes of our trip will appear in all our writing one way or another over the next little while.
So that was Saturday, and on Sunday morning, Steve, Stephen and I took a train to Stockholm to walk around and get a flavour of the city, old and new, before it was time to head for the airport and our flights home. Now I must find time to rewatch my DVDs of the original Swedish TV series adapting the Millenium trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo etc.) and see what I can see differently.
But now I must get some work done today. Still, I know that will come all the easier after a trip like this. Not only did we see countless things to fire the imagination, but meeting keen readers and enjoying so many varied conversations always inspires me to do my very best for the people who I ultimately write for.
I’m just back from a week away, and I’m currently dealing with the post-holiday admin pile up. While I do that, here’s what I’ll be doing in Dublin and when. It’s going to be a lot of fun!
Fantastical travel guide
15 Aug 2019, Thursday 15:00 – 15:50, Liffey Hall-2 (CCD)
Do you fancy a trip to a fantasy realm? Want to avoid stumbling into Moria or falling off the edge of the Discworld? Our panel of authors are here to help you by roleplaying as one of their characters and trying to persuade you to travel to their fantasy worlds.
Autographs: Friday at 11:00
16 Aug 2019, Friday 11:00 – 11:50, Level 4 Foyer (CCD)
Is epic fantasy conservative?
16 Aug 2019, Friday 13:00 – 13:50, Wicklow Hall-1 (CCD)
Back in 2013, Gollancz’s Twitter account made the claim that: ‘Epic Fantasy is, by and large, crushingly conservative in its delivery, its politics and its morality’. The question sparked a discussion that is still relevant and ongoing. Is epic fantasy politically conservative and, if so, what does this tell us about the genre?
The lack of technological progress in fantasy
18 Aug 2019, Sunday 11:00 – 11:50, ECOCEM Room (CCD)
From the cotton gin to the printing press, technology doesn’t seem to advance in many fantasy worlds – despite hundreds of years of history in which an industrial revolution could happen. Why doesn’t it? Does magic replace the need for technology? What about the growth of magic-powered technology within a fantasy world? What does it take to get a little scientific progress?
These islands: exploring Irish and British fandom
19 Aug 2019, Monday 11:00 – 11:50, Liffey Room-1 (CCD)
For decades fans from Britain and Ireland have participated in and even run each other’s cons. Has this created a shared British and Irish con culture, or does each country have its unique traditions? And have modern social media and travel options diminished or enhanced our close ties?
Reading: Juliet E. McKenna
19 Aug 2019, Monday 13:00 – 13:20, Wicklow Room-5 (Workshops) (CCD)
And yes, in case you were wondering, I will be reading from The Green Man’s Foe.
Speaking of which, one of my admin tasks this morning was picking up a box of books. Don’t these look good together?
Whatever social media you use, you doubtless see regular polite/pleading reminders from your favourite authors about how important online reviews are these days, and reviews on Amazon most of all.
This isn’t just needy writers looking for some ego boost. Publishers tell us authors time and again how reviews drive vital visibility when their numbers reach the ever-shifting tipping points that trigger different promotional algorithms. How even readers who don’t shop at Amazon use the site to see what other people think of books that interest them, as they decide to buy. How publishers can even use a title’s level of reviews as one measure of a writer’s popularity and a possible predictor (among others) of interest in a possible future project.
So please support your favourite authors with Amazon reviews. As long as you are allowed to. This is where all this starts to get problematic. A pal thought to do me a favour by leaving a genuinely favourable review on Amazon only to have it rejected because their spend on the site over the last six months didn’t reach the required threshold. I went to see what was what and found this on Amazon UK –
“To contribute to Community Features (for example, Customer Reviews, Customer Answers), you must have spent at least £40 on Amazon.co.uk using a valid payment card in the past 12 months. Promotional discounts don’t qualify towards the £40 minimum.”
Since I remarked on this on social media, various other people have confirmed that the same thing had happened to them. Though what that qualifying spend might be clearly varies from time to time and place to place. That doesn’t surprise me. We already know that Amazon regularly tweaks their algorithms’ review number trigger points as they look for the best way to maximise their revenue. Other things also became apparent. You don’t have to be buying books to qualify, just stuff, because this isn’t about books, it’s about Amazon making money. Indeed, when some people found they were unable to post reviews they were told that their Kindle purchases didn’t count because the spend had to be on physical goods. Whether or not an Amazon Prime subscription counts seems to vary as well.
Why are Amazon doing this? The obvious answer is it’s a countermeasure against bots and review spam. That’s fair enough, but it’s a very, very blunt instrument. It does nothing to stop astroturfing (faking ‘grassroots’ support) by someone with a lot of pals who buy sufficient stuff online. But that’s not Amazon’s concern. They’re in business to make money, first last and always.
So what can we do? Well, the reason that reviews matter is what sells books is word of mouth recommendation. That’s been the case for ever. All the Internet has done has enabled us to tell each other about a good new book in a whole lot of new ways. So carry on doing that – but now, please try to remember to look beyond Amazon when you want to support an author by boosting a book and when you’re looking for recommendations. If you have the time and inclination, check out Goodreads maybe, and/or look for the bookbloggers that share your particular interests.
Whatever social media you use, whenever you can spare the time for a quick mention, even just a line or so, it all adds up and it all helps to boost the signal, and that’ll help keep your favourite authors writing. Thanks.
If you’re within striking distance of London on Saturday June 8th, I will be the BSFA guest of honour at the annual one-day convention jointly run by the BSFA and the SFF, alongside their respective AGMs. More from the BSFA here.
The venue is the Department of Physics, South Kensington Campus, Imperial College, and the programme is as follows:
1005-1100: Panel 1 – BSFA
The Zero Sum of Literature: are some SF writers wrong to not welcome “literary” writers with open arms to the genre?
1105-1200: Interview/talk 1 – Rachel Livermore
1200-1230: SFF AGM
1300-1330: BSFA AGM
1330-1430: SFF panel – “Return to the Moon: how and why?” – GS (M), Dave Clements, Rachel Livermore
1430-1530: Interview 2 – Juliet E McKenna interviewed by Sophia McDougall.
The Convention is free to attend and open to the public. Hope to see you there!
And now as promised, here’s another taste of The Green Man’s Foe, using the Book Quote Wednesday word ‘promise’. If this seems a little opaque at the moment, trust me, it’ll all become clear when you read the book.
There was an edge of desperation in Ben’s voice. I have to admit, that did intrigue me.
‘Just come down to take a look at the place,’ he pleaded. ‘We really need to get the project moving, and I honestly can’t think of anyone better than you.’
I wondered how much of that urgency was some instinct stirred by his dryad ancestry. Then there was my dream last night to consider. I had learned the hard way that the Green Man didn’t like being ignored.
‘I’ll talk to Eleanor.’ I raised a warning hand. ‘No promises.’
‘Great.’ Ben’s relief was obvious. He took a pen from an inside pocket and scribbled on the front of the Brightwell folder. ‘That’s my mobile, and my email. Let me know a good time for you to visit. Later this week, if you can?’
I nodded, still non-committal. There were potential complications I needed to discuss with Eleanor that I couldn’t explain to Ben.