The New York Club WMC, 11th March 2017
To kick things off I travelled from Accrington. That’s a small town in Lancashire stuck between Burnley and Blackburn; two other small towns in Lancashire. I ought to mention the quest for the room as fellow pub attendee (Frion Farrell) helped me scour The New York Club, to no avail. Like dungeons except up the stairs. The real exploring was done by Frion while I tended to the earth-shattering task of guarding the way out. We discovered nothing; in fact the upper floors looked like they’d been deserted since the days of the Great Heathen Army (just joking).
Anyway we found the room in time – never trust me with a compass… even with a satnav, I’ll find something completely off the map.
Fantasy Sub-genres, Sociohistory and A J Dalton
This session was introduced by Alex and it featured AJ Dalton, who coined the genre term: Metaphysical Fantasy. In real life AJ drops the abbreviation to mystically become Adam. Adam gave a talk on Fantasy Sub-genres, drawn from work on his Phd at Huddersfield University.
As is the way of things the chit-chat was drawn to the state of SF publishing. The leading SF publishers in the UK (I’ve not mentioned you, Gollancz, honest) have a for some time subsisted on a diet of discardable authors. The way it works is an author is signed up for a multi-book deal. The deal is a series and the product (yep – go too closed to a trad publisher and you’ve strayed into a literary factory) is a set of virtually identical books. The deal works like this: you can write what you want in your spare time but you have to supply the next novel in the series and it’s got to be just like the last one no excuses or you’re out – you’re out anyway if it don’t sell…
One of the areas touched on is, given that Fantasy and SF features so much on TV and film, why is there no trickle down onto the bookshelves – to give existing writers a fillip in sales? The problem is the genre has been appropriated. Brian Aldiss warned of this, in a way… it was back in the 60s / 70s when he warned that the middle classes would eventually come and organise the genre – the implication being a) it was slightly anarchic (true) and b) this future event, whenever it happened wouldn’t be to our liking. As for appropriation, all you need to do is look – see non-genre writers who by dipping into the genre, crowd out everyone else.
“Down to the bottom of the scrap heap you lot – this isn’t SF (which should never be let out of its ghetto so proper writers don’t have to waste energy despising it) but it’s got big name snob value; away with you, away!”
Once you’re relegated to the scrap heap, all you’re good for is trial runs in the Academy of
We’re Looking for the Next JK Rowling
…in big red, flashy letters – or maybe George RR Martin. I daren’t use red flashy letters for him in case he bumps off more characters leaving only the really, really, really, really nasty ones. And once you’re that, you’ll write 50 novel sagas every week, just like a robot only better because you’ll not cost as much to keep going, ‘cos the capital cost of a ‘bot is still prohibitive, but they’re working on it. (I know that sounds like Delirium but if you keep the secret, I won’t tell.)
Which is why there’s so much publisher pap on the bookshelves. Which is why SF publishing is in a mess. Well that’s not the only reason but if UK SF publishers were to reverse out of their rectums, that’d be a start. Come to think of it, the reason I started writing was for many years I wasn’t seeing what I wanted to read in WH Smiths or Waterstones. Now chains like that rely on central buyer decisions so you begin to see the SF / Fantasy offering is actually is concentrated in very few hands, in the UK.
We used to have a good SF forum in New Worlds, many years back, until Michael Moorcock fucked it up. Traditional publishers are stuck in a safe, formulaic limbo. There is good SF out there but the publishers are overlooking it because they’ve become the Mills & Boon of the genre. This sound like a rant? It is and yet in this day and age there are remedies. What if BSFA were to do a deal with WH Smith, Waterstones etc to help promote award winners? Ultimately we need to get decent product in the hands of the buying public; traditional publishing has drawn up the footbridge so we must up our game.
It’s the job of SF and Fantasy to say things that can’t be said in conventional fiction – we’re a kind of early warning bird – but that’s not what conventional publishing has in mind; it wants predictable plots, predictable budgets, predictable cash flows and predictable business plans. Art is there to be paid lip service to, creativity is something to chain to the keyboard.
Keyboard Warriors, Rise Up And Strike Off Your Chains
(Not convinced that’s a great warrior battle cry – CROM! sounds better)
Let’s have a poll:
For all you publisher people out there, don’t take this personal – I understand word count and creativity and producing something new – and I also know that REPETITION is a turn off; it relegates product into: ‘Unnh he’s done a series of books and they’re all exactly the same – no the covers are different – sort of – and anyway it reminds me of Harry Harrison’s… an idea dealt with pretty comprehensively by Roger Zelazny in… hmm didn’t Bob Heinlein do several takes… Am I really that bothered?
So what’s to be done (by the publishers)? All sorts really – sponsor activities through the national writing groups (yes those where you get critiqued for generating mechanical plots, stilted dialog and laboriously ornate prose) with a view to finding the next JG Ballard or Philip K Dick (which might rule out the obsessive self-promoters); forge links with the Society for Editors and Proof-readers and libraries; keep a discreet eye on Goodreads; maybe sponsor sub-awards in BSFA for good fiction – something to steer the SF publishers away from the rut they’re in…. They need to understand that mega-stars crowd out the rest – yes written work can be polished up to look invincible but most of us want a healthy marketplace where we can hang out together without having every movement we make scrutinised by the Virtue Police or trundled out as an election time party-piece. The cult of personality is deeply unhelpful….
Enough. The bit that occasioned my navel gaze was followed by a reading, then a raffle… as the talk was about Fantasy Sub-genres, I ought to mention my notes:
- High fantasy
- Little Human fantasy
- Pagan fantasy
- Epic fantasy
- Flintlock fantasy
- Urban fantasy
- Comedic fantasy
- Metaphysical fantasy
- Dark fantasy
- Dystopian YA fantasy
- Grimdark fantasy
- and of course derivative Tolkien-esque Nature fantasy
(I won 1 x copies of AJ Dalton’s Empire of the Saviours –blueskin warrior cover; Jay Posey’s Dawnbreaker –blue eyes are in; and Danielle L Jensen’s Hidden Huntress –this cover looked like a volcano erupting, then I imagined it was a kind of fiery demoness, made to look like an erupting something or other – finally I worked out the flames were merely a bit of neck contour and the dust cloud, a chin – I guess if I squinted really hard and imagined I was YA (target market) I could have pretended this was, well, whatever it was supposed to be.
…plus the traditional book signing and finally the most important part of the mission – pub talk. Unfortunately…
…I have a long-standing infection on my lungs which a) won’t clear up and b) leaves me listless and drained after a few hours. Much as I would have liked to stay in the bar, I left early so I was up to dealing with the 1½ hour drive home.
I also self-publish so here’s some links:
The Slow Holocaust
A collection of dystopian tales
Short forays into Detective fiction and Historical fiction
Silt From Distant Lands
Poetry: on leaving the EU, Scottish Independence, WW1, the Big Bang, Dogs that never stop barking…
If you’re a publisher or literary agent and you’re thinking of approaching me, I suggest you check these books out. I do cash flows, budgets, business models and strategic plans for a living. Call it an unfair advantage.