Fantasycon 2014: Cloaks, Curry, and Karaoke

fawkes

We did not actually go to this pub, but it is my favourite, so here’s a picture.

This last weekend I attended by very first Fantasycon, which just happened to be in York, one of my very favourite places. I was initially quite nervous about the whole thing – my lovely bloke wouldn’t be attending this one, I’d be staying in the B&B on my own, and I had both a panel and the super mega bumper edition of Super Relaxed Fantasy Club to attend. I suspected I would get lost, or not know anyone, or feel terribly homesick, or simply fail to interact with people successfully. My experience of talking on panels in the past has been somewhat mixed, and I have to admit that over the last year I have wondered whether it’s something I should do at all, given it seems to be against my nature in lots of ways – I always enjoy listening to people, and having opinions on things (ye gods, do I ever have opinions on things) but I’m generally better at writing these opinions down, rather than managing to verbalise them in a witty and concise manner in front of a whole bunch of people. That, I’m not so great at.

As it happens, I think this time I managed to get away with it. The panel, which was titled “Beyond Grimdark”, featured me, Adrian Tchaikovsky, James Oswald, and Martin Taylor, with David Moore moderating. There appeared to be lots of people attending (I can only be vaguely certain of this, as once I’m in the chair I’m usually too scared to look at the audience) and the discussion was lively and interesting, AND, get this, I even managed to say a few things that might have made sense, and that were quite important to me.

My attendance of Super Relaxed Fantasy Club was almost scuppered by dinner at a curry house that had a) the cheapest glasses of wine I’ve ever seen b) narn breads so big they hung them from metal trees c) a casual approach to actually bringing the food, wine, or the bill, and c) a window seat that was apparently cat-nip to all of York’s drunkest and most exhibitionist citizens (thanks to Lucy Hounsom and Max Edwards for a dinner I won’t forget in a hurry). Having finally coaxed the waiters into bringing both the cheap wine and the bill, we necked the booze and made a hurried and dignity-free journey back to the hotel (who coincidentally had the most expensive glasses of wine I’ve ever seen) so that I was just in time to stumble apologetically into the room just as Den Patrick was contemplating throttling me, no doubt. Luckily, the event itself went swimmingly, largely thanks to Den, and as well as top readings from Laura Lam, Ed Cox, Emma Newman and Niel Bushnell, we also had a bonus section where James Barclay interviewed Simon Spanton – a lot of great people, talking about great books. It was fab, and I felt a tiny sliver of pride at how this odd little joke on twitter has turned into an event that people actually enjoy. (A note for newcomers to SRFC – the fantasycon edition was somewhat less chatty than usual, partly because we were overexcited and packed our time with readers, but normally there is a greater ratio of sitting around drinking cider)

Other highlights for me included my first ever win in Cards Against Humanity, watching the marvellous Juliet Mushens and Andrew Reid belt out “A Whole New World” at the Karaoke (some things cannot be unseen), almost getting Adrian Tchaikovsky to recite some Dr Seuss for me, the excellent lady who ordered a copy of my book on her tablet while I was standing next to her (hooray 21st Century!), being a nuisance in the sword shop, and listening to Charlaine Harris talk – she has the most wonderfully reassuring voice. I chatted with tons of marvellous people and caught up with lots of friends (I won’t attempt to name them all here because I will forget loads) and now I am absolutely knackered. Really, fantasycon has broken me. Big thanks must go here to the Redcloaks, as ever, who were simply fabulous. Roll on next year!

My Pretend Workspace and the Desk of Doom

Thanks to a recent twitter conversation, there has been a small flurry of blog posts from writers talking about their writing spaces. So far Lou Morgan, Laura Lam, Andrew Reid and Stephen Aryan have shown us around the rather lovely places where they do the bulk of their writing work – I recommend going and having a look. There is something infinitely pleasing about a creative space, and the things they choose to fill it with.

The truth about my writing space is, I don’t have one. Or, more accurately, I take it with me. I have a (slightly battered) netbook and a (less than sane) number of notebooks, and they all get shoved in my enormous laptop backpack and dragged to a variety of cafes, libraries, and the sorts of pubs that open at 9am. I find it difficult to concentrate at home, you see. I prefer to be in an anonymous space, where the cat/the washing up/the xbox aren’t staring at me in attention-seeking tones of mute accusation (there are things living in the tea cups, Jennifer, and when are you going to finish that eighth playthrough of Mass Effect?). I like being out and about anyway, because strangers can be dead interesting. Anyone who follows my twitter feed knows that you get some fascinating characters in pubs at 9.30 in the morning.

But I do have a writing desk at home, in the tiny yellow room we call the Box Room, and I have written at it – mostly at weekends, when I’m feeling virtuous. Mainly though, it serves as a place of totems and charms, a place that I can exist in and think about stuff. It’s a tip most of the time, as are most places that are connected to me, but I have taken a few pictures of the main features for the curious, and will attempt to explain some of the mess.

nano certificate

 

Pictures are quite important to me. I use a lot of blu-tac. Here you can see my first ever Nanowrimo certificate for the book Bird and Tower, which was back in, I want to say, 2008? Bird and Tower was a children’s fantasy book, a sort of gender-reversed Rapunzel with some genetic engineering thrown in there. My other Nanowrimo certificates are above this one (for Ink for Thieves, Dead Zoo Shuffle and The Snake House I think) and I like to have them up there as a reminder that I am utterly capable of writing 50,000 words in a month. Sometimes you really need reminders like that. Below the certificate you can also see a postcard from my final year at art college – the project was about depicting weird memories from early childhood, and this one was about a boy who remembered feeding a giant slug in his back garden. To the right of that are some postcards from Spirited Away, one of my favourite films ever, and a quote I printed out from George R.R Martin about Fantasy being written in the language of dreams. You know the one.

the boys

I like action figures. And video games. These guys are some of my favourite characters, and when I’m struggling with something I like to ask, “What would Marcus Fenix do?” Well, blow the fucking shit out of everything, obviously. From left to right we have Thane from Mass Effect 2, Duncan from Dragon Age, Garrus from Mass Effect, Marcus Fenix from Gears of War, an armoured alligator with a sword, and down in front, The Chamberlain from The Dark Crystal. Beyond the D20’s you can also see one of my dad’s belt buckles, a shiny green eagle’s head.

fafhrd

This is probably one of the most important pictures in my writing space. It’s a portrait of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser from Mike Mignola’s comic, and I love it. There is so much I love about Fantasy in this picture – the darkness of it, the various belts and weapons, the overly confident poses. I always look at this and wonder what a version with Wydrin and Sebastian would look like. They would stand exactly the same way I think, only Wydrin would be smirking and Sebastian would probably look faintly long-suffering. The Copper Promise is a love letter to Fritz Leiber’s kind of sword and sorcery, and looking at this picture always reconnects me to that.

oathbreaker

Here you can just about see the hilt of my larping sword. I named it Oathkeeper, although when labelling the photo I called it Oathbreaker, so I think it has a bit of a dual personality. When I’m writing lots of action scenes it’s pleasant to be able to pick up a sword and swing it about a bit. It’s not as heavy as a real sword, obviously, and I’m in no danger of decapitating anyone, but it gets me in the mood anyway. Also on the wreckage of my desk, not pictured, is a real dagger (pointy, but not sharpened) called Frostling, after one of Wydrin’s claws. It is very cool.

pinboard

Just to demonstrate that some actual work does happen in this room, here is my pin board, currently covered in bits and pieces about the sequel to The Copper Promise. It isn’t attached to the wall because I like to carry it around the flat sometimes, so I can do planning in the living room or the bedroom (the Box Room is bloody freezing in the winter).

And finally, the cat. She normally hangs around in the Box Room until she decides that the things on my desk all look better on the floor, at which point she is hurriedly booted out the door with a few well aimed swear words. She does look quite cute in this picture though.

pyra

 

So what about you? Do you have a space where you work, and it is filled with lovely things? Blog it and tag me and let’s all be nosy. Oh, and infinite cookies of win to anyone who can name any of the unnamed toys and pictures…