What does bang-average shampoo, a ‘babby’, and a Swedish horse have in common?
(Or, if you’re Sadir, ‘Daaaaar-by’.)
This weekend I’ve been lucky enough to attend Edge-Lit, an annual science-fiction, fantasy and horror event, held in Derby. It was my first ‘convention’, having previously attended smaller get-togethers for author panels/book signings in bookshops. Armed with a schedule, and accompanied by fellow fantasy-fans Kareem Mahfouz, JP Ashman, Laura M Hughes and Sadir S Samir, the day was a whirlwind of author sessions and panels, ending with the David Gemmell Awards for Fantasy in the night.
We managed to squeeze in (and I say squeeze, because the room was FULL) to the ‘Choose your own Adventure’ session led by Guest of Honor Peter Newman, which was a great way to set the tone of the day. The adventurer (audience) had to make their way through a house, choosing to uncover secrets as they went, or defeat ‘monsters’ submitted by fans/readers to Peter before the session. The secrets allowed the audience to ask questions of Peter’s stories and how he crafts them, but also his own ‘personal story’ (more on this later), including night-time habits.
Defeating monsters required audience participation, including singing – cue RJ Barker declaring ‘this is my moment!’ before joining a chorus of singers to defeat a monster (its weakness was a particular song). Oddly enough, said monster was also the same monster that RJ had submitted himself…
Rallied and raring to go, we headed straight over to the wonderful Emma Newman’s session on ‘Overcoming Psychological Barriers to Writing’. I would just like to make it clear at this point, that Emma Newman is quite possibly one of the nicest people I have ever met.
Laura even proclaimed that when she grows up, she wants to be Emma Newman.
Emma’s candid and honest presentation of her own story (again, more on this later – I promise!) allowed the session to explore tools for overcoming ‘fear’ of writing. I say fear, because the session ultimately boiled down to exploring the many excuses writers craft, to keep themselves from the craft of writing, including procrastination, are borne of fear. This was a particularly interesting perspective for me, as I’ve recently hit a bum-note in my draft because of a ‘tricky chapter’, which I avoid returning to by way of procrastination. Realisation hit me, thanks to Emma’s session, that it wasn’t just the ‘tricky chapter’ holding me back, it was me holding myself back. I’m around the 75% mark of the draft, and the thought of finishing something I fear will turn out ‘shit’ is stopping me from finishing it in the first place. As Emma said, you need to give yourself permission to write shit, because not only will you write through ‘it’, you might also write some of the best shit you’ve ever written in doing so.
Next up, Anna Stephens’ session of ‘Character PoVs – How Many is too Many?’ which did exactly what it said on the tin. I would certainly consider Anna an authority on this, as her phenomenal debut Godblind has 10 pov characters, yes TEN, which was cut down from an original 16 – and she was kind enough to share the story behind that change (I know, this is the third time I’ve alluded to this ‘story’ thing, but you’ll have to wait a little bit longer). Not only do all of these 10 povs ‘work’ in Godblind, and work really well, I couldn’t imagine Godblind without them. We as the attendees were also spoilt by the presence of RJ Barker and Mark de Jager, who were on-hand to add to the hilarity, and share their own insights. It was interesting to hear other aspiring writers share the choices on perspective (first, third close, third omniscient, second) and the number of point of view characters in their current working drafts. The ‘number’ ranged from as low as one (first person) to JP’s 20+ (which is probably conservative knowing you, mate!). Did we come up with an answer? Naturally. I bet you’re thinking that we came up with the usual answer of ‘as many povs as the story needs’, right? Wrong.
Here’s the answer: to decide how many povs you need for a story, roll a d20 (or in JP’s case, two).
After grabbing a quick lunch (and a second pint of the day, the first being at 0930hrs – don’t judge us, we were ‘on holiday’) we were once again treated to the joys of Peter Newman, as he led a session on ‘Getting Unstuck: Overcoming Writer’s Block’. Now, this was different from the usual: ‘oh, I do x y z to get over it’. In a ‘script doctor’ fashion, Peter invited each attendee to share a ‘problem’ that they were currently experiencing in their manuscript, a ‘block’ if you will, and then came up with ideas to overcome it, within less than 4 minutes.
First off, Peter is a MACHINE. He thinks faster on his feet than Usain Bolt off the starting blocks.
Not only were the ideas a mile a minute (and there were 4 minutes each, so there were plenty of ideas) but all of them were brilliantly thought out, relevant and articulate. Again, it was interesting to hear the stories of the authors behind the stories within the prospective books (ALMOST there on this story point I’m trying to make).
This led us nicely into a three-hour gauntlet of panels.
- Epic! Why is High Fantasy still riding a wave of popularity? Chaired by Gav Thorpe, and discussed by Lucy Hounsom, Anna Stephens, RJ Barker and Stan Nicholls. While you can’t give an exact answer to this question, nor are you supposed to, the panellists revealed the true reason as to why high fantasy, and fantasy in general, is ‘riding a wave of popularity. Because IT’S FUN! The panellists were excellent, and had the audience laughing on more than one occasion. RJ Barker (the source of all of Nicholas Eames’ woes) came out with such gems as ‘I didn’t read the questions Gav sent out beforehand because I thought it would be cheating’.
- New Voices: How Hard is it to break into fantasy fiction? Chaired by Lucy Hounsom, and discussed by Natasha Pulley, Zen Cho, Emma Newman and Peter Newman. The stories behind the stories-in-the-books were as varied and as vivid as the next, and it was a breath of fresh air to hear how even those authors who had a similar ‘path to publication’ had entirely different experiences.
- It’s All Fiction: can we picture a world without genre? And will it ever exist? Chaired by the AMAZING Alex Davis, and discussed by Samantha Shannon, Joanne Harris, Alison Moore, John Gwynne (woo!) and Adrian Tchaikovsky. Edge-Lit brought out the big guns for this one, and I thoroughly enjoyed the different takes on the topic from those that had been around the scene a bit. Whilst there’s no ultimate solution to this, the one thing abundantly clear is that you can’t categorise readers, but you can attempt to categorise books.
After making a quick mad-dash to the hotel and back again, we settled in for the final Edge-Lit event: the David Gemmell Awards. We met up with Clan Gwynne, who are just the nicest family you will EVER meet. I’ve met Caroline, Harriet, James, Ed, and Will several times before, and of course John himself, but I always feel as if I’ve known them a lot longer. It’s like you’re part of their family, which in a way is true, because everyone at the event was part of the Fantasy Community Family. Problem was, somehow our little lot ended up on the same seating row as RJ Barker and his wife, the Lovely Lindy, and Anna Stephens and her husband Mark. This was going to cause trouble…
Phil Lundt opened with a reading, before we went straight into the first category. Megan O’Keefe won the Morningstar Award for best debut with Steal the Sky. This is my favourite award category, as I like to think this is the start of something big from whoever wins! But it was at this point, as the auction began and I was wondering what Megan would do next, that that trouble I mentioned a minute ago, manifested itself.
Like a bunch of naughty schoolchildren on the back of the bus, our row proceeded to throw in last minute raises on prices, egg each other on, and in general have a bloody good time. I’ve not laughed like that in a long time.
Alessandro Baldasseroni won the Ravenheart for his striking artwork on Blackrift, and the big award of the night, the coveted ‘Legend’ for best novel, was taken home by Gav Thorpe for his novel Warbeast.
All in all, the entire weekend was phenomenal. Like I said, it was my first convention, so I didn’t really know what to expect, but it wasn’t this. I had an amazing time. The panels and sessions were insightful in a way that Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the interwebz will never be able to convey. The subjects and topics were relevant, appropriate, and delivered in such a way that everyone seemed to take away at least one nugget of something that was special to them. And above all else, the people were fantastic.
Which brings me to the point about the story. If I had to name the one big thing that I learned at Edge-Lit, it’d be this:
It’s not just the story IN the book that matters – it’s the story OF the book, and that of its writer, that really counts.
Or, that Swedish horses don’t neigh, they ‘geneg’.
A huge thank you to everyone who made the weekend as special as it was – and I for one am already looking for ways to attend future events…especially BristolCon. Apologies to anything or anyone I’ve missed, but I had about two hours sleep last night and I’m starting to do the ‘nodding dog’ over my keyboard.
Even though, for the most part, the wider Fantasy Community is online, that didn’t matter. There was an easy familiarity beyond friendship – it really is a family. Consider it this way: people travelled from far and wide (Sadir from as far as Sweden!) to catch up with or meet people for the first time, all because of their joint love of books, the genre, the authors, and the stories we all have to share.