This past weekend I finally took the plunge and popped my con cherry at AltFiction. Re-locating this year from Derby to Leicester, under the management of the mighty Adele (@Hagelrat of twitter & a head Apoc Girl) and her team, it was held at the Phoenix Digital Arts Centre, which is a lovely venue; modern, easy to navigate, with a great café/bar.
I arrived late to Leicester and was therefore (typically) late for my first workshop, Mark Chadbourn’s ‘The Business of Writing’ but (and huge thanks to Adele’s awesome team here) was allowed to sneak in. So glad I didn’t miss this, it was more of a talk than a workshop but brimmed with practical, sensible advice, and invaluable tips. I left feeling very positive indeed. Loved the pragmatic fourth rule: Be prepared to write shit (the route through to what you want to write is often paved with things you don’t).
Kim Lakin Smith’s superb steampunk workshop ‘Getting Steamy: putting the punk into alternative history’ followed directly after. Kim treated us to a fascinating and succinct lecture on the subject before mercilessly plunging us into an intensive story writing session. It was huge fun and very well planned out, perfect to spark ideas. I think every writer in that workshop left with a solid story idea to write. I forgot my notepad (thankfully really, as my handwriting is dire) and was using my iPhone to write on, which was… interesting, but still, I love my idea and I thought the way Kim handled the workshop was masterful.
After chats and coffees it was off to the SF panel, which was more interesting (to me) when it ran off topic (Did Steve Jobs kill SF?). Either way, it was a lively and engaging panel and I thoroughly enjoyed it, though I really wanted someone to mention Slipstream, which I felt was an essential addition to the discussion on where SF can go now that the future is with us, dealing as it does with that ‘strange’ sense of living in the chaotic, tech-drenched, media-driven world we’ve created. The panel that followed, ‘Writing as a Day Job’, was unfortunately not so enjoyable. To be fair to the panellists involved they were somewhat dumped in it, and I think they managed to depress themselves more than us, but I was glad I’d had Mark Chadbourn’s earlier workshop to balance against their less-positive vibe or else I’d have been sorely challenged to keep my cheer. Or perhaps not, as much wine and laughter and chat ensued thereafter in the cafe/bar, then at the hotel (the fabulous Encore Ramada)! So, all in all, a top day, and an even better evening.
Sunday was much briefer, with its final events at 1-2pm, but was just as wonderful. The day began with a delightful and engaging discussion between Kate Laity and Graham Joyce, ‘The Extremely Dangerous Fairy Folk’, or EDFF, as Graham hilariously kept referring to them. This was, hands down, my favourite panel of the weekend, Graham and Kate really have such an intensive knowledge and passion for the subject, and their exchanges were informative, entertaining and thoroughly absorbing. I truly could have sat and listened to this for hours, it was made of win.
Following directly on was a panel on diversity in fantasy, moderated by Mark Newton, with Adrian Tchaikovsky, Anne Lyle and Sarah Cawkwell (who stepped bravely in at the last minute and did herself proud). This was a really interesting panel, covering a huge swathe of topics: LGBT issues, minorities, the responsibility of the author to be dynamic, to really think through what they’re writing and take responsibility if they’re churning out more of that Medieval, white fantasy that so lets us all down in its blinkered view of the world (even secondary worlds need diversity for Pete’s sake!). I came away with a great deal to think about, because these issues do matter to me and I definitely do not want to be ignoring diversity in my writing, especially as I’m part Jewish, therefore partially a member of a minority, and a staunch supporter of LGBT equality.
I’ve never been to a reading before – I know ‘gasp’ right – and I missed Ken MacLeod’s reading as I was busy chatting away, but luckily Paul Cornell’s reading was re-scheduled and it was great. We were treated to three excerpts, all ending on massive cliff hangers, and so now, not only do I want to buy his book (‘London Falling’, out on Dec 6th this year) but I have a small idea as to what these elusive readings are all about and frankly I want to attend more, lots more, and more cons too. They’re so addictive. Guess those spawn cages and stun guns I’m watching on ebay may be a necessary purchase after all… 😛
Now I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the most important part of this event, the social side, the chance to meet people, to mingle, chat and share your enthusiasm and your passion for writing and I’d like to thank these people for making my weekend thoroughly awesome: Fran Terminiello, Karen Davies, Fiona Sutton, Erik Lundqvist, Pat Kelleher, Cathy Hill, Anne Lyle, Tom Hunter, Andrew (whose last name I didn’t catch but who goes by @mygoditsraining), Paul Cornell, Maria Smith, Adele, Pablo and Mrs Cheesecake (@PabloCheesecake & @MadNad (who I didn’t recognise as she failed to transform to a werewolf!), Mark Chadbourn, Lou Morgan, Kate Laity, Zoe Adams and more (so sorry if I’ve missed anyone out, I was hugely excited/overwhelmed/nervous and my senility has gone into overdrive!). For a social recluse/retard like myself, this was an incredible experience and I’ve had to reel in my gushing because… really… rep to maintain etc etc 😛
If you’ve never been to a con before AltFic’s the perfect toe in the water, relaxed and friendly but packed to the rafters with great content and people who truly love writing in all its forms, all of whom are more than willing to chat. Next year it’ll be held at the same venue in May, so I hope to see everyone I’ve already met and a load of new faces, as Adele is promising to pull out all the stops and make it even better!