Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Sci-Fi London and BlogFest Meet-Up

Whilst everyone else in the country slept late and enjoyed the sunshine this May bank holiday weekend, Mark and I donned our geek-costumes and headed for Sci-Fi London Film Festival held at the incomparable Apollo Theatre on Lower Regent Street.

This was the first year we did not attend the Festival for movies, but for their literary talks. The festival has been going for eight incredibly succesful years and we've been going for the past six years. This year however was their first year in which they incorporated authors and talks about genre writing and literature and I have to say, in our opinion, it was a huge success.

Mark and I attended two talks during both days.

On Saturday we sat in on:

Writing For Young Adult Fantasy

What's the difference between writing for young adults and writing for everyone else? Is there a difference at all?

We ask these experts to give us the low-down on writing successfully in this very competitive niche.

Panel discussion with:

Paul Stewart/Chris Riddell
Oisin McGann
Chris Wooding
China MiƩville
Pat Cadigan

The panel was incredibly fun and informative. The majority of the authors firmly stated that they have chosen to write for young adults because there are no restrictions. You can throw monsters and mayhem, horror and fantasy critters at their audience and they can get away with it. First and foremost though they stated that they wrote for themselves, for their younger selves. The idea that your work can influence a whole new generation of readers, in their formative years, also seemed to appeal tremendously. A crucial item which everyone mentioned though is that writing for children and young adult is incredibly difficult whilst being liberating. Your audience is utterly unforgiving, even more unforgiving than writing for adults. If they genuinely do not like your book, they will not see any reason to continue reading it. They will put it down and not bother reading it, unlike many adults who may feel feel obliged to finish a book as a challenge.

The panel also mentioned that there is such breadth and scope writing for young adults / children as literally anything goes. You can tackle genre fiction, literary fiction, and do cross-over storytelling between different genres. As a writer you are the limit of your own creation.

It was an incredibly positive and powerful panel discussion and I personally came away feeling very inspired.

Random Steampunk weapons called Nerf guns which I found online!

Next up we went to the Rise of Steampunk Subculture Panel

Steampunk has been bubbling away for years, but now Steampunk theatre and cabaret scenes are slowly establishing themselves, traditional 'goths' are replacing their eyeliner for goggles, cogs and gentleman's jackets and Solaris has just published an anthology of Steampunk writing.

So why has it taken so long for Steampunk to break through? Why now? And where do we think it is going?

Panel discussion with:

Stephen Hunt
Chris Wooding
Bryan Talbot
Paul Duffield

Tom Hunter, administrator for the Arthur C Clarke awards, chaired this panel and it was interesting to see how well he steered everyone's discussion.

I have never been sure about Steampunk - I didn't quite "get" what it was about, previously, even though I had read some books and seen some flicks which were steampunk in genre. So listening to their discussion as they were trying to define it, I was happy to see that even the esteemed panelists couldn't point a finger and say 150% that "yes, this is it".

Graphic novels such as Bryan Talbot's Grandville was mentioned (we got to see a short clip of that) along with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novel and movie (to a lesser extent) as well as the Will Smith Wild Wild West flick.

Bryan Talbot did a good definition: in modern times everything has gone hyper small, all technology is tiny. Steampunk is all about being big - the machinery, the buildings, the inventions, the spinning cogs, the larger than life imagery and heroes. It is also set in Victorian times / pseudo-Victorian times and can be set in the future (here I think Serenity / Firefly can fit in slightly).

I enjoyed this panel, especially when the various fashions were being discussed and looking around the audience you could see that several there were of the Steampunk persuasion and you know, I can quite happily say that I MUCH prefer the Steampunk look on my gentlemen compared to say scruffy jeans a and a t-shirt.

On Sunday we attended The New Heroic Fantasy panel:

The days of by-the-numbers 'swords and sorcery' seem to be well behind us and modern fantasy writers have brought a new type heroic fantasy to the masses. Is that a conscious effort by today's fantasy writers or just a new sensibility for a modern world? How has the massive rise in popularity of fantasy fiction changed the writers approach? How hard is it to maintain a fresh approach to such a well-defined genre?

Panel discussion with:

Joe Abercrombie
Stephen Deas
Adrian Tchaikovsky
Tom Lloyd

This was the big one, for both Mark and myself. As fans of big-ass heroic fiction, we entered with big expectations and we were not disappointed. The panel was chaired by unashamed fanboy Robert Grant who was the one who had fought so hard for the fiction panels to be added to Sci Fi London's line-up. He set the ball in motion by having each person introduce themselves and speak about their current work and what they thought defines heroic fiction.

They were asked what defined heroic fiction and the generalisation was that it was a grittier type of fantasy, where wounds were fatal and magic was not highly prevalent - and if there was magic present, it was not something everyone had access to and invariably it was a wild type of magic or magic with consequences. They touched on Stephen Deas' Adamantine Palace novel and the fact that his dragons were not cute and fuzzy. He pointed out that dragons have only recent been made cute and fuzzy and historically stories about dragons were stories about creatures of darkness and fire, testing the metal of the hero - the hero was only as tough as the dragon was. Joe Abercrombie mentioned that in heroic fantasy, characters do get killed (sometimes gruesomely) and there is no bringing them back. Heroic fantasy also plays a bit with the genre and sometimes does not have linnear storytelling.

Sitting there in the semi-dark, listening to this group of authors talk, was like walking into a conversation amongst old friends. The panel veered from one subject to the other as they disccused influences (Tolkien, George RR Martin etc) character creation, plotting and seemingly everything else they could think of, including why there are so few female characters of note in heroic fantasy. It was a solid panel which highlighted four very different authors in this new sub-genre of fantasy, their works and their influences. Something which struck me, and I think others at the talk, was the fact that every single one of these authors used to be / still are gamers - be it D&D, World of Warcraft online or LARP, amongst others. And I know they have this in common with other authors too. I forget which of the authors said this but someone mentioned how running a campaign for their characters (friends/gamer buddies) taught them how to progress a story in a linnear fashion but then found that their characters diverged utterly, doing their own thing - and this was tremendous training ground for sitting down and writing a novel.


After this we had a bit of a long break - we ended up having drinks and chatting to David Devereux, Charles Stross and Tom Lloyd in the bar area. Chatting to Tom Lloyd was tremendous fun - he is an amazing person, unassuming and brilliantly funny. I got to talk to him about Stormcaller and proved myself a genuine fangeek. Before I could embarrass myself utterly, Mark dragged me off to one of the screens as he had booked us tickets to go and see Wolverine.

Firstly, if you look at the posters for Wolverine, you reckon he gets to hang with everyone on it for most of the movie, right? Wrong, very wrong. Everyone on the poster appears in part of the movie, one way or the other, for a short period of time, but we get to spend the majority of the time with Logan. Apart from the obvious appeal of Hugh Jackman being nekked for one of the scenes and him having his shirt off enough times to keep everyone happy, Wolverine is quite a good Origins flick. It makes full use of the awakening / appearance of the mutants and Striker going from semi-good guy to all-out bad guy and his motivations. Very credible. I have not had much cause to know much about Gambit in the past but Taylor Kitsch's portayal was quite good. I am off to find out more about Gambit and his powers.

After Wolverine we spotted Suzanne McLeod, Stephen Deas and David Devereux and chatted to them for a bit before subsequently being dragged off to a pub.

Then we scooted back to the Apollo for a talk on Contemporary Urban Fantasy

With the rise in popularity of contemporary urban fantasy what is it that we are looking for that's missing from our everyday lives? Given the well-documented dangers of modern life, why are our modern fantasies filled with ancient dangers?

Panel discussion with:

Pat Cadigan
Suzanne Mcleod
David Devereux
Alex Bell

Alex, Suzanne and David - what a trio! All three were brimful of chat in this panel. They quickly defined urban fantasy and gainsayed the common preconception that it was all just fang-banging heroines with guns. Urban fantasy as a genre, in my mind, and those on the panel were noted down as being stories set in modern times, maybe even in the future, with the lives of the hero/heroine within the novel, being touched by the paranormal. Under this we list authors such as Neil Gaiman, David Devereux, Tim Powers, Suzanne McLeod, Alex Bell, Mike Carey, Charlie Huston, Charles de Lint, Terri Windling etc. Within urban fantasy, there is the movement of paranormal romance. This genre is rapidly growing, especially in the States were Romance readers enjoy romance with an element of fantasy and fantasy readers get the chance to enjoy a bit more romance with their fantasy. It is a cross-over genre and a very popular one. It invariably incorporates a kick-ass heroine and the element of romantic liasons with a paranormal creature - be it vampire, werewolf or shapechanger (or any other you can think of).

One item which Suzanne brought up, which made us all think is how urban fantasy sometimes / invariably gets classified in the "horror" section in bookshops. Or even under the "romance" section. Bookshops can't seem to decide where to place this sub-genre and it is an interesting and irritating conundrum. A book has to fit in somewhere, so where do you file something that defies its parameters? I am specifically thinking here of Natasha Mostert's The Keeper which fits in almost everywhere - and this makes it both an easy and a difficult sell.

The talk was spirited and interesting and thoroughly enjoyable. We had a good time listening to them chat about their work and about their upcoming novels.
After bidding them all "good bye" we headed home!
Monday evening saw us hitting the town with our friend Karen Mahoney, Ana from The Booksmugglers and Katie from Babbling about Books. We had our inaugural mini blogfest meet-up and will hopefully get to do this more often as it was a blast.

We ended up in the Pitcher and Piano just off Lower St Martin's Lane and the evening was spent talking about books, authors, publishers, publishing, writing, inspiration, Hugh Jackman, Special Ops, Trisha Telep, reviewing, books, more books, graphic novels, movies, Hugh Jackman, SciFi London, various Book Events across the world and yet more books. In fact, we were so raucous in our nerdy fun that several people moved further away from us for the duration of the evening. It was actually quite amusing. We stayed there way too late but we had a fantastic time and eventually pointed Ana and Katie in the direction of the underground so that they could head home. Katie was visiting Ana from the States and Ana lives in Cambridge. It was a fantastic evening and I can't remember the last time I laughed so much - my head is aching this morning from it!


Ana said...

I know right? I said the same thing to Kate: I can't remember the last time I laughed so much.

and hey we also talked about Demon Sheeps - but the black ops take the cake!

Hope to see you guys again soon! : D

Karen Mahoney said...

What an awesome blog post! Thanks for the round up on the panels you went to - I feel like I didn't miss out on so much. :)

It was brilliant last night! Yes, we have to do it again.


H said...

Glad you had fun!
What geek costumes did you don???

prophecygirl said...

Wolverine... ahh, Wolverine. I loved that film! (and Hugh Jackman & Taylor Kitsch. I'm hoping for a Gambit movie!)

Sounds like you had a great time!

Ailsa said...

Great post! Someone had a post about this on their lj... can't remember who at the moment...

About classifying the boos as horror/romance - it always makes me laugh when I look in the 'horror' section in Waterstones Glasgow, and they have 'romantic horror'. It sounds like a bit of an oxymoron. At least I know where to find it, though. *g*

Suzanne McLeod said...

Great post, Liz :-) And the book blog get together sounds like lots of fun!