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Monday, 31 October 2016

At BristolCon

Apologies for the blurriness of any images, or any clumsiness of layout and balance between text and images. This is the first time I've ever done something like this.

Panelist Cassandra Khaw.
It's Monday, and I'm back from one of the newest science fiction and fantasy conventions in the United Kingdom. BristolCon. Located at the Doubletree Hotel, it is a hive of activity for authors, publishers, agents and sellers dedicated to these genres. There, you attend panels in the two main Programme Rooms dedicated to subjects that vary from year to year, feature stalls from local sellers that feature everything from Jewelry to books to Doctor Who memorabilia, and relax in the Break Room with drinks and Lego, or at the hotel bar (I prefer the break room myself, where this year Bionicle pieces reminded me of its influence on my decision to become a writer). This year's BristolCon was primarily focused on fantasy, with many of its panels delving into the behind-the-scenes features of the genre.

The panels I attended were most interesting. The first, "Not Just Hocus Pocus", focused by and large on systems of magic that do not conform to the systems in Rowling's Harry Potter novels, with their focus on spells and wands. It delved into many areas, but the one that stood out for me was how panelist Sarah Ash (a fellow fan of manga and anime) described her impressions on Ursula le Guin's Earthsea series, with its focus on true names giving power over staffs and lengthy incantations. The second panel, "The Regiment of Monsters?", focused on how the sci-fi and fantasy genres fell into the traps of giving non-human races potentially racists stereotypes (which I have briefly expounded upon in this post on my blog), and how the genres were even to this day being dominated by, as panelist Dev Agarwal said, "the straight white male". The leading picture is of another of the panelists, Cassandra Khaw.

The third panel I attended was "SF&F On the Margins", and it was a big eye-opener for me, as it was aimed at people like me: authors trying to break into a highly competitive market with material that might not suit all tastes and thus would be deemed as a high risk venture for the Big Five publishing houses. Lots of the information there was useful, and I even made notes of a few small press houses I might try within the next year. The next thing I attended, after taking a break, was Sarah Ash's piece called "Sleigh Beggies, Black Dogs and Knavish Spirits", a presentation about the use of British folklore in anime and manga with particular focus to The Ancient Magus' Bride. My final panel was "Under the Covers", a revealing talk about the problems and issues facing book cover artists. Now I know fully that my sister Daisy, who created the covers for my Crystal and Sin series, went through is new.

There are several people at the event who deserve special mention, but I can't unfortunately give all of them names due to my poor memory for names over faces. The first is one (first right) of the organisers, Roz Clave (I think).

The second (first left), depicted here in a very well realised Jedi/Sith outfit, is Pippa Jay. She minded a stall full of interesting books.

The third and final mention (second right) is C. M. Hutt, and I do hope I didn't use her married name by mistake. This was one of the exhibitors in the excellent art room alongside other names such as Andy Bigwood, Margaret Walty, and Chris Moore.

At the request of the latter two, I could not show any photographs featuring their artwork within the art gallery (second left), but Bigwood and Hutt were willing for their artwork to be shown in picture. I have to say the artwork on display here was excellent, with Moore continuing to prove himself a master of the form in the science fiction genre. Walty's artwork was also very fine, with scenes that were both realistic and stylised with natural fantasy landscapes.

On the whole, the event this year was as good if not better than last year, and I found more enjoyment as I was there as a writer trying to learn about the industry and perhaps make contacts (probably not much luck with the latter). The panels were interesting and entertaining, and the people there were interesting and entertaining to talk to. I felt really at home, and felt that I'd gained a bit more understanding for the kind of thing I'm letting myself in for as a writer. I also found their stalls all very tempting, and was tempted by a non-fiction book on samurai available on a stall run by Books On The Hill. By the end of my time there, I was tired by satisfied with an eventful and fruitful time. I just have to make sure my niggles don't corrupt the experience in my memory.

An additional shout-out should be given to the open mike reading that came the evening before, which featured multiple people I later saw at the event. My piece, from my in-progress book The Leviathan Chronicle, was one of four to overrun, and I was just pipped to the post by someone else who was more experienced, probably local, and had a full edited and printed book rather than working from a print-off from an OpenOffice Word document.

Anyone whose a lover of science fiction and fantasy must try to addend this wonderful convention in this wonderful city. It's the kind of thing that doesn't happen all the time, and it's where you'll find a world of genre fiction beyond the bookshelves of WH Smith and Waterstones, beyond the Harry Potters and Eragons of the bestseller list. You'll get a good idea about what this world is like, and how those within it make their living and negotiate the difficult world of the genre author.


  1. Thank you for the shout out! And BTW, your request for a photo made my day. ^-^

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