Sunday, 13 June 2010

Alt. Fiction 2010

Yesterday I made my way down to Derby for the one-day genre extravaganza that is Alt. Fiction. The journey from Manchester to Derby is fairly short (about 90 minutes both ways) and is a lovely one to undertake in the summer when the sun has deigned to show itself - miles of rolling green hills glimmering with an emerald radiance beneath the azure skies. Mmm, azure skies...not seen nearly enough of them recently. But I digress.

The last Alt. Fiction I attended was in 2008 and while it was a good day, it still had the feel of a fledgling convention that was still finding its feet. Pleasingly, this year's incarnation improved on pretty much every aspect: the events (panels/workshops/signings) were more plentiful and specific in their topics, the facilities (the con was held in Derby's QUAD centre) were superior, and the attendance was greater (with a very healthy blend of editors, authors, agents, bloggers and general readers). The free bag of swag wasn't too shabby either, with a nicely-produced programme, a couple of free books and few other bits and bobs.

Upon arriving (slightly later that anticipated, as I was relying on the map application on my iPhone for guidance...and naturally it refused to work for some reason) I nipped straight into the panel on publishing . I found it interesting that the bulk of the advice offered by the panelists (including agents John Jarrold and John Berlyne, PS Publishing supremo Peter Crowther, and Gollancz publicity guru Jon Weir) focused more on how to approach publishers and agents, rather than how to actually write a novel and get it published (let's face it, that's not something you can really teach). And in any case, knowing how to  approach publishers is a crucial element of the process - there's no point writing a brilliant novel if you then fail to use the proper etiquette when sending it out, as you'll just blow your chances. John Jarrold mentioned that he receives thirty submissions a week from writers who have completely failed to read his submission policy properly - and that he deletes such emails without reading them in full. As he said, "If you don't treat me in a professional manner, I won't treat you in a professional manner." Words worth listening to. Interestingly, the topic of how to behave at conventions came up - another important issue, as some people clearly have no idea how to present themselves properly (such as the writer who, despite attending the panel, clearly failed to pay attention as she spent twenty minutes after the panel bombarding Jon Weir with a load of guff about her paranormal romance novel). Needless to say, Jon was the consummate professional.

I then grabbed a quick beer with Jon, along with Veteran author Gavin Smith, and bloggers Amanda Rutter and Mark Chitty, before heading to the fantasy panel on sparkly vampires versus hack n' slash (a bit of an odd angle to take). The panel featured, among others, Mark Charan Newton and Alex Bell. To be honest, the resulting discussion was rather pedestrian at times - "Mark, what sort of fantasy do you read?" - and one gentleman in the front row actually fell asleep and began snoring. Still, you can't win them all.

Following the fantasy panel, I popped downstairs with Adrian Faulkner (nice chap I knew through Twitter) and we attended a podcast conducted by the tireless Adele from UnBound, featuring Mark and Alex (both fresh from the fantasy panel) as well as Kate Griffin. The resulting conversation was more lively than the earlier panel, though Adrian (unintentionally) did his best to distract the participants with his extremely fizzy bottle of coke, which threatened to drown everything out. ;)

After the podcast, Adrian and I accompanied Mark and his lovely editor Julie to the bar for some more drinks and decent chat. Then it was back upstairs for a final hour of mingling, in which I managed to grab a few words with Gavin Smith, M. D. Lachlan and John Berlyne, before saying my goodbyes at 5 pm (would have liked to stay longer, but the small matter of England's match against the US in the world cup was something I couldn't miss - although as usual it turned out to be a disappointment, so perhaps I shouldn't have bothered getting back for it).

So yeah, a good day in all, though as usual I didn't manage to chat with everyone I wanted to. Alt. Fiction is certainly establishing itself as a crucial convention, which is great to see, and I'll hopefully be back next year.

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