My boyfriend and I (the dedicated and enterprising writers that we are) got up at 6am on a Saturday morning, left my flat with bleary eyes and made our way up to Foyles book store on Charring Cross Road for The Gollancz Festival 2016.
I have to admit it- he was more excited than I was.
Don’t get me wrong, I was excited, but he is a lot more connected to the sci-fi scene than I am. Two of his favourite authors were going to be there, Joe Abercrombie and Stephen Baxter, and he was practically salivating at the idea of meeting them and asking them about their work.
I am fairly new to this sub-genre, and was more thrilled about the general idea of mingling with successful authors and agents, and hopefully have some of their talent rub off on me at some point during the day (if I managed to get close enough to them).
I’m currently in the process of plotting three novels which would be classed as fantasy/sci-fi, but am very aware that I do not know enough about relevant fiction/movies/comics etc to claim, by any stretch of the imagination, to be a ‘geek.’ My boyfriend is well qualified, and I happily defer to his knowledge on all things sci-fi or fantasy. Except Lord of the Rings- in that area we are fairly well matched.
So we were both pretty stoked about getting tickets, and actually organising ourselves well enough to make it up to Foyles, on time and with said tickets, to spend the day contemplating all things Writing.
The day kicked off promptly at 9.30am, and incorporated several different panels of authors talking about various ideas and subjects, with moderators to guide the discussion and keep people on topic. It was fairly light-hearted and easy to follow; but also thought provoking and inspiring.
I was struck by how ordinary all of the authors who spoke were. I know that seems really dumb, but when I’m sitting in my flat, contemplating the depressing possibility that I might never actually get anywhere with this writing malarkey; authors seem a very long way away; actual published authors I mean. They seem like they’re existing in a different universe, and I imagine them to be lofty, efficient other-worldly beings.
To see them sitting up there, clinging onto their coffee cups in the sessions before 11am, almost within touching distance, made the possibility that we might one day get there seem all the more possible. It really made the idea of getting published seem realistic, in a way that I hadn’t been able to envisage on my own staring at my monitor.
They are all humans as well- they all had two eyes, elbows and spoke about having days where they lacked in self confidence, and couldn’t comprehend why people would read their books. Antonia Honeywell spoke about fitting her writing in around dealing with young kids, and Scott Lynch expressed frustration at having been nominated for several awards, but not actually winning any.
They had their own up days and down days, and their own issues and hang-ups.
It made me realise that if they could do it, so could I; and this in itself was really encouraging on a personal level. It kind of hit home for me (again) that only I could make it happen, and only I could make sure I put in the hours, and the blood sweat and tears needed to get a publishing deal. These authors weren’t so far away from me; it just requires a lot of work to get where they are.
It was also made pretty clear that once you are published, the work does not stop or become any easier. One of the early sessions centred around a discussion of the way the publishing industry has shifted in response to the digital revolution and “information age”.
The fact that anybody who wants to can now communicate directly with their favourite authors via twitter and facebook, has opened up entirely new arenas for PR and marketing within the publishing industry. This has effectively opened up the industry and made it more accessible, which is great for fans and unpublished writers, but tough for published authors.
If your online presence is not favourable or “liked”, you risk losing fans and readers who are able to follow your thoughts and opinions on any number of topics. One wrong comment, and your next book may flop.
The authors on the stage discussed whether or not they portray their true selves via social media, or create personas to navigate these new pathways of communication with the very people who could make or break them. Dealing with trolls and critical fans was an exercise in diplomacy and tact- what if all you wanted to do was sit at a computer and write? Unfortunately this is now sometimes not enough.
It was interesting listening to them discuss the various benefits and pit-falls of being either active or distant in said social forums, and I found myself day-dreaming about having 50,000 followers that bothered about my personal opinion on a new blockbuster or best-seller. It’s pretty hard to feel too much sympathy for authors at events like these, you just want to be sitting up there next to them too badly!
In the afternoon Jon Wallace spoke about the idea that, in his opinion, the 1970’s was one of the best decades for writing and culture in general; that the social upheaval caused by Margaret Thatchers policies and subsequent crack down on the miners and arguably working class communities created the environment for forms of culture to emerge which had conflict as their basis.
Punk Rock emerged, and bands such as The Sex Pistols and The Who represented widespread anger and hostility to the status quo and the political climate of that era. Wallace elaborated that literature and in particular sci-fi literature explored ideas of dystopia and societal collapse in new and fresh ways, and authors took the issues of the day and re-framed them into fictional tropes.
He suggested that another such explosive era might take place now, following Brexit; the “immigration crisis,” and the over-riding sense of uncertainty and distrust that seems to permeate the general consciousness in 2016. A lot of people are wondering wtf happened in June, and how we as a country ever reached the point where isolationism and blatant scare-mongering won out over tolerance and inclusion.
A lot of people are angry, baffled and frustrated with the political system and classes- will these contemporary issues feed into new types of writing and new ways of looking at old themes of conflict and dystopian futures? Wallace seemed excited about the prospect, and I found it intriguing to wonder what new types of story will surface in the next few years or so- will my writing be affected by the political and social issues which exist around me?
All in all the day was really interesting.
We were pretty shattered by the end of it, and I flopped slightly and had my boyfriend take me home earlier than we’d planned because my head was feeling slightly mashed. He had enjoyed it loads as well, and had got to meet Joe Abercrombie and get a picture with him- which I have put on Instagram with the witty caption “Joe Abercrombie touched my boyfriend.”
The last comment I will make on the day and the kind of things it got me thinking about, is that although I stated above that seeing the authors sitting just 15 feet away from us, and listening to them talk about their own issues, made me realise how normal they are- they definitely do still have a slightly elevated presence.
I met Pat Cardigan, who is a heavyweight in the sci-fi world, and had her sign her book Synners which I had just bought. And although I wouldn’t have known her if she passed me in the street, she had a way about her which made me slightly tongue tied. I’m not sure if it was the way she held herself, or if it was just my own perception, but she did seem somehow above us lowly yet-to-be-published folk.
After I left her I felt slightly buzzed, and star-struck. I wasn’t a fan, and this was the first time I had heard of her, yet somehow I felt like I’d met someone really special.
I’m not quite sure what that is- maybe getting published just validates your efforts and makes you feel good, thus raising your energy levels and making you vibrate at a frequency which screams success! on a subconscious level. Who knows. But it was tangible and had an effect on me: I really felt like I’d met a star.
It was a really awesome day, and me, my boyfriend and another friend are planning to go to a similar type of event in November near Brick Lane. It will probably be another early start, but hey- you gotta put in the effort if you actually want to be sitting on one of the panels for events such as these one day!