York Pubmeet 9th May 2015: British Science Fiction Association, British Fantasy Association
the Elmbank Hotel, York
Midnight 09/05/15 (last Saturday) I was woken by my eldest son texting a reply to my earlier message – –
he said – –
I didn’t get back to sleep immediately – the couple at 235 stumbled in. The walls in the Elmbank Hotel are paper thin. It’s 140 years old – the history of the place hard is to come by but its age places its building, at the height of Victorian Britain – round about the time of the period known as la belle époque. It looks like it hasn’t had an uplift for a long time. When you get close up, the genteel veneer has cracks in.
Staff and guests do their best. The couple next door to me did theirs too; one had the reassuring grace of an elephant, repeatedly stumbling over the furniture. A late night chat merged into a late night shag; however, despite the obligatory moans (about 5 mins for the time keepers) one wonders whether the plumbing ever actually connected. When you’ve had a skin-full, the delights of sex play better in the mind than for real. Obligatory sound effects as a backdrop, I gave the events of the evening a run over.
or One Step Closer in The Quest for the Ultimate Word
This immediately presents a problem. I write for honesty, so should I go for honesty or do I give it the fan buzz? While we’re on with questions, what did I expect? did it live up to those expectations? My idea of what it would be like was fuelled by many fandom accounts of yesteryear, mostly American.
The 3rd pubmeet was at Brigantes Bar, Micklegate, York. A quick survey of the crime stats showed it was in the heart of York’s darkness; not much worse (or batter) than where I live. Any precautions would be the normal ones for Saturday nights out. The Brigantes Bar is a fifteen minute walk from the Elmbank Hotel and the meeting room was on the first floor (for U.S readers, the bar being down on the ground floor). I got there early – that is on time (4:30 pm) to find the organiser in chief in the midst of organising, in particular, unpacking the raffle prizes… so I was in time to have a few preparatory drinks, I went and had one and at 5 pm I went up.
Hot, cramped, sweaty
Writing is a growth thing – a larger venue could well help
Readings – characterful (2 types of writing / performance by KT Davies and Mark Norris, guest writers)
The attendees merged fans with writers. Most of the fans were writers and pretty much all the writers were fans.
Editorial Q & A was with Lee Harris, Senior Editor, Tor.com running a bonus “Ask the Editor” session. i.e. what you should know as a writer. Writers instinctively know much of it but the input of an industry professional helps place things into perspective. e.g. Publishers are rarely keen on dealing direct with writers, get an agent. Agents are like gold dust.
As a numbers person I decided to probe Lee on questions which I already knew the answers: sales numbers —for my line of fiction they’re not good (spelled C-R-A-P). This was partly to engage other attendees with the realities of (traditional) publishing. I threw some ball park numbers for ‘what sales should an unknown ‘in-genre’ author expect for a first book. He didn’t throw my figures out of the play-pen (1,000 for the UK, 7 x that in the US – fantasy / SF) although he made the point that it might vary, depending on sub-genre popularity i.e. what was ‘hot’). Things we know already.
Tor are doing a novella line. There’s a market niche. Submissions via Submissions.Tor.com
There were plenty of other questions which Lee fielded quite well. Time for a quick detour back to our guest writers. Mark Morris is well travelled writer who having written for nearly thirty years (first novel: Toady) has a good number of novels to his name including some for Doctor Who. He read the opening piece from The Wolves of London (Horror / Mashup) which is the first novel in a recent trilogy Obsidian Heart. His reading was followed by a lively question and answer session in which he was generous and patient with his answers. I haven’t read any of his work; although the reading didn’t impel me to remedy the matter, he was well received. KT Davies – blessed (or alternatively cursed) with a strong Yorkshire twang – read from Breed which is also a recent piece (Fantasy). Her reading style was lively and engaging, and inclined me to a favourable opinion of the work as a whole (what a jaundiced brute I am). We were asked the question of gender. It’s worth noting that I too have those Yorkshire roots – long shucked off btw.
When the authors (and our ‘tame for one night’ editor) had had their innings and we’d refreshed ourselves with beer, beer and more beer, it was time for the last bit; the Raffle. The Raffle would be better called a Giveaway. It was made up of books and collected comics donated by by the organiser who, in his other life as a reviewer, accumulates late betas, advance previews, freebies, not for sales etc. Before the event began I browsed the stuff on offer; I’d never heard of most of it – comforting – no really – I’m fed up knowing exactly what I’m gonna see. Twenty years out of the genre has been good. Only names I recognised was Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore.
There were 100 + books to dole out. One or two were returned. No, let’s make that Paul v Zombies kept getting returned. No one wanted it. It became a running gag, except for the organiser who doubtless didn’t want it either. He came with 2+ copies and left with them! I chatted to the organiser. Why did he do what he does? It’s not for money (he doesn’t get paid).
Back to me this becomes “oh wow I won three books and they look half decent!” Well actually, it was more one book plus volumes one and two of Alan Moore’s Promethea (collected). I’ve read bits of his stuff – V for Vendetta, The Watchmen. Alan Moore is okay —okay, Jack (King) Kirby he is not, more a Philip K Dick of Comic Books.
And Breed. How handy was that? It was certainly an entertaining listen – a kind of twisted warp of fantasy – one attempted by Mary Gentle in Grunts which incidentally lost my sympathy all those years back. I quickly worked out the excerpt was from chapter 2.
The convention closed and I got KT Davies to sign my copy. All to the good. As we headed off downstairs for some serious drinking, I asked myself, will I review Breed? It’ll be the first genre book I’ve read in years. Probably. On Amazon. If I get thru it.
Thinking of doing a convention? What it involves is:
1) Hire room
2) Special guests
3) Activities / competitions
5) Promote what’s happening
6) Other stuff 🙂
Back to the hotel. I stayed overnight and had a full breakfast. Cost £8.50. Not much to write home about. Typical of many guest places, it used standard food; I’d have been as well off to eat at a roadside café.
Was I hoping to find inspiration? Nope. I was looking up to see what was happening.
The focus of critiques is still on direct action – leave out anything higher
(We are) Driven by the desire for social communication – we like to fit in
You pay for the peace and opportunity to contemplate; it doesn’t last – away into the world. I rounded off my visit by walking back to Micklegate after breakfast.
Aside on philosophy
I had two chats on the subject —in so far as it might affect the writer’s fiction. One was intelligent and insightful; the other ended with the other person stalking off in a huff. Philosophy isn’t all learned systems (your course will be to parrot what this long dead philosopher dreamt up) nor is it slavish devotion to the thesis my lecturer made a career out of‘. That’s nailed pretty much all what’s on offer, huh?
The philosopher’s conceit is that they alone can comment / offer a useful explanation of the phenomena and rationalisation on how to observe. The ‘barrier of words’ syndrome is most often encountered in ivory towers – here I draw from my experience from visiting philosopher to MMU – where idiosyncratic povs are garbed in ‘high-falutin’ terms. This deflects attention from RL. Observation runs deep in the human spirit. Much of what we call wisdom circulates through the everyday pithy comments of normal working people. Wrap it up in a impenetrable language and it’s ‘philosophy’.
The life’s work of Idries Shah involved the collection of sayings from the nomads and other peoples of the Central Asian Steppes. Most of that culture is long lost but he draws parallels between it and the quips, irony etc of the English. Many are relevant to the action of philosophy.
Enlightenment must come little by little – otherwise it would overwhelm. (Idries Shah)
“Please, not again what you studied, how long you spent at it, how many books you wrote, what people thought of you – but: what did you learn?” ibid
“From time to time ponder whether you are unconsciously saying:
‘Truth is what I happen to be thinking at this moment.” ibid
“It is not important to have said a thing first, or best – or even most interestingly. What is important is to say it on the right occasion.” ibid
“Study the assumptions behind your actions. Then study the assumptions behind your assumptions.” ibid
“When people believe that the form is more important than the Truth, they will not find truth, but will stay with form.” ibid
“The proverb says that ‘The answer to a fool is silence’. Observation, however, indicates that almost any other answer will have the same effect in the long run.” ibid
I’m thinking of reading one of my pieces out. Via You Tube.
This won’t be easy. There’s quite a few characters, the piece is 20,000 words long and it needs to be broken down into manageable bits.
Of course I’ll embed each episode here.