Big Up Bristolcon

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I went to my first ever Bristolcon this weekend, which I’m pleased to report was brilliant. Good times were had, dodgy food was eaten, minds were expanded.  

At this stage I’m not a massive con veteran and I’m just starting to find my feet with these things, but what struck me about Bristolcon was how cosy it was – cosy friendly rather than cosy tiny, I mean. There were two conference rooms where the talks took place, spaces for the dealers and artists, and a huge bar, and I very much enjoyed walking back and forth across the hotel because inevitably you would bump into someone you knew almost immediately.

            I met up with possibly too many people to name, but I’ll chuck a few up here – saw Fran Terminiello for the first time, who shared a bottle of wine with me and undoubtedly has better taste in booze; finally said hello to Lou Morgan, who I have spectacularly failed to meet previously despite attending many of the same events; discussed a Watership Down roleplaying game with the mighty Dave Moore; caught up with Anne Lyle, who saved me from awkwardness when I turned up hideously early (I was very paranoid about missing the train and consequently got up at 4am); admired Emma Newman’s spectacular coat; Mhairi Simpson prompted a vividly memorable conversation about, uh, green dragongs; saw Gareth L. Powell receive a monkey dressed as a fighter pilot… as you can probably guess, I had a lot of fun. And thanks to Guy Haley, who got the same train back for a little while and ensured that at least 20 minutes of my journey was filled with amusing chat (the rest of it was spectacularly hideous. There is nothing quite like 20 boozed up football fans all trying to vomit into the same train toilet).

            The panels! Also, the panels were great. I particularly enjoyed the Women in Sensible Armour talk, where the sense of “we’re not putting up with this bullshit anymore” was palpable, and Danie Ware brought up a particular bug bear of mine (namely: strong women having to have massive personality problems or issues). The steampunk panel was great too, headed by the fabulous Philip Reeve – there were lots of opinions on show, all articulated wonderfully. Plus Nimue Brown had an excellent hat.

            All in all, I had an excellent experience and felt very welcomed and included. I am a reasonably introverted person, as I may have mentioned before, and a decade or so ago the idea of travelling to a place by myself and actually, you know, talking to people I’ve never met before would have been totally unthinkable; now I’m pleased to say I can do it, with bells on, and that is partly due to the awesome and friendly writing community. Good show, I say, good show!

The Meaning of Steampunk

I was watching the eddies of conversation collide today on twitter, as you do, and I spotted a mini steampunk discussion. Given that I’ll be involved in a podcast on the subject this Saturday at Alt.Fiction, it caught my eye and now has me contemplating the actual meaning of the term “steampunk”.

            Adam Christopher (also podcasting on goggles and airships this weekend) mentioned that he couldn’t see how The Anubis Gates was a steampunk book, as there are no steam-based technologies in the story. In fact, the catalyst behind what is, quite frankly, a fantastic book is ancient Egyptian magic and time travel (also magical) that has nothing to do with Victorian steam-tech at all.

            This is a fair point. The reason it’s interesting to point this out with The Anubis Gates in particular is that Tim Powers is one of those mentioned in the famous letter to Locus magazine that coined the phrase in the first place.

…Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like “steampunks”, perhaps…

—K.W. Jeter

 

So if The Anubis Gates isn’t steampunk, then what is? What does it actually mean? Personally I like to think of the sub-genre as Historical Science Fantasy, but even that is a bit wobbly if we want it to cover TAG. Where is the science, really? This got me thinking though- do we really take the “steam” in steampunk to refer only to outlandish steam powered technology, such as Abraham Lincoln robots or flying machines? Or is steam actually a shorthand way of referring to a certain period of history, namely the Victorian era? (Whether or not we uproot that era and place it elsewhere, I think that’s really the heart of the genre). In other words, is steam actually just referring to the time of the industrial revolution, regardless of how much unlikely tech you’ve got in your Victorian Fantasy?

 

I’d love to know what you all think! So put on your best automated top hat, fire up the steampowered abacus and tell me what you think the term steampunk actually means.

Alt.Fiction Approaches! 25th-26th June

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Alt.Fiction is very close indeed now, not this weekend but the next in fact. I went last year and had an absolute blast- I even, dare I say, learnt quite a lot about publishing and writing, alongside the lovely sense of community and shared geeky joy in discussing genre books. If you are at all interested in science-fiction, fantasy or horror this is the con to go to; it’s relaxed, fun and the schedule looks cracking this year too.

 

Alastair Reynolds and Dan Abnett are the Guests of Honour, there are workshops and screenings galore and no doubt a lively non-stop gathering in the bar, so do come along (you can see the list of guests and the full schedule here). My good friend Adam Christopher will be reading from his soon to be published book Empire State, and I’ll be talking on a couple of podcasts too- one on steampunk with Adam and the lovely Kim Lakin-Smith, and another on the rather juicily titled subject “Is Genre Just for Boys?” with Jenni Hill, Mark Newton and Graham McNeill. If you are there do pop over with your questions, moral support or flasks full of strong liquor.

 

See you there!

 

(ooo, look! Just noticed that my author page is up on the alt.fiction website! This pleases me*)

 

* The steampunk anthology, Her Majesty’s Mysterious Conveyance, will be out soon, but more about that in another post.

The Tasty Joy of Finishing the First Draft

So, I finished the first draft of Dead Zoo Shuffle a couple of days ago. The last few chapters took a little longer than I anticipated, although so far every single book has been the same; you think you’ve got the ending all figured out, and then it throws up a few little surprises just when you’re convinced you’re on the home stretch.

This book has been an interesting journey. It was my first attempt at crime (er, as a genre, I didn’t do any actual bank robbing) and  my first attempt at novel length first-person narrative. It was the first book I planned chapter by chapter and my first real experiment with the trappings of science-fiction. And I think the risks paid off, at least in terms of how much I enjoyed the writing. In many ways I feel like I found my voice with this story, or the beginnings of it.

There’s an awful lot of work still to be done, of course, with the editing and redrafting already looking to be a big job, and there’s plenty of stuff I know needs to be tightened, or added, or cut entirely. Unusually though I’m looking forward to it (remind me of this when I actually come to edit the thing, I’m sure I’ll be less enthusiastic then).

So now I’m putting Dead Zoo Shuffle aside for a short time while I finish polishing Ink for Thieves. I’m also starting to put together notes on a potential fantasy/steampunk novel called The Iron-Haunted Heart, a project that’s been bouncing down my mental rapids for a while now (no, I don’t know either) and fiddling about with a couple of short stories. I said in January that this would be the year for editing and submitting, didn’t I?  So as much as I might like writing books and then putting them in a drawer to forget about, I do believe it is time to embrace the red pen…

A Steampunk Anthology: Her Majesty’s Mysterious Conveyance

So my exciting news this week is that my novella, The Hidden History of Stones; Or How the Sinking Jenny Was Sunk, will be appearing in a steampunk anthology from Echelon Press. Her Majesty’s Mysterious Conveyance is due out in May and will also include lovely long novellas from Adam Christopher, Kim Lakin-Smith, Nick Valentino and Sean Hayden. I’ve mentioned the steampunk story I’ve been writing here and there, normally in reference to how long it took me to write it…

 

It was quite a challenge for me. Although like most SFF fans I am very familiar with steampunk in all its brassy glory, I’ve never actually written any. I tend to dawdle around the fantasy and horror end of the woods, where as steampunk is more in the science-fiction/fantasy area. The idea of writing a novella was also reasonably new, given that I tend to write either very short shorts or reasonably long books. I struggled at first, anxious that it be “steampunk enough” and aware that I was trying to get familiar with a new pace of fiction, but once I’d figured out that what I really needed to do was just tell a story I wanted to hear, I rather enjoyed it. In the end, there is plenty I love about The Hidden History of Stones (including its ludicrously long title) and there’s even a character I would like to write about again one day…

 

 So yes! I am dead proud of this and very chuffed indeed that my story will appear next to some fabulous bits of fiction. I will slather this blog in details as soon as I have them.

 

Sauce

Just a brief update to say that so far this year, I am more or less behaving myself.

I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions, but the two words I do have in mind at the moment are EDIT and SUBMIT. Every six to twelve months-ish Marty and I will have what we call a “planning session” down the pub, where we get bits of paper and make lists of what we want to have done by when, and what we need to do to get it done. It’s possibly the most informal planning session ever, with plenty of drink, doodling and amusing names for our plans, but I find it very pleasing and we stick our bits of paper up on the box room wall for all to see (us and the cat). Thanks to my aversion to a) editing and b) showing anyone my work, edit and submit were featured very highly on my list this year.

My current schedule is writing in the morning, editing in the evening. As simple as that, but, amazingly, I seem to be making some progress. Stuff that needs tidying up is getting tidier, and the Steampunk story is chuntering along slowly (Dead Zoo Shuffle is briefly on hold while I sort this thing out).

So let’s hope I can keep up my slow and steady progress, and 2011 might be the year I let another human soul read one of my books for the first time. Possibly.