The first session I attended today was titled Take the pebble from my hand exploring the benefits of mentoring for emerging writers. Chaired by Kaaron Warren (whose novel Mistification I reviewed recently), the panel also had Kimberley Gaal (mentee of Ms Warren’s), Jane Routley (mentor), Angela Slatter (mentor) and Louise Cusack (mentor).
I enjoyed the session – it was good to get both mentor and mentee perspectives on what makes a good relationships of this sort. While all the mentors were paid, Ms Warren and Ms Slatter seemed to mentor more through writer centre programs whereas Ms Routley and Ms Cusack seemed to run their mentoring as a business concern (hanging out their shingle when they have time to take on a client).
It was a bit worrying for me that at least two of the mentors look for that “spark of genius” in the people that they take on as mentees. I don’t think I’ll ever have that! Fortunately, the other mentors were a bit more willing to take on people to improve their writing regardless of their basic ability. Ms Cusack in particular seemed very open in her desire to work with a wide range of clients.
All the mentors spoke a lot about the willingness of the mentee to actually take advice, and noted that unsuccessful mentoring relationships tended to be more about attitude than talent. All in all a very informative session to start the day with.
Backyard Speculation was the next session attended, chaired by Jason Nahrung, who was joined on the panel by Tor Roxburgh, Gillian Polack, Claire Corbett and Lachlan Walter. The discussion focused on two main themes, a sense of landscape and culture.
On the landscape front, there was a focus on the inhospitable centre of Australia and the feeling that we were already half way towards an apocalypse, hence the tendency towards dystopia. But there was also some interesting discussion about the urban landscapes of Australia, including exploring the vertical elements of our cities. This also lead to some points about the Australian tendency to think of ourselves as second rate, with Ms Polack in particular pointing out that most of our larger cities rivalled American cities in size and age.
The issue of culture was also explored, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander vs non-indigenous discussions as well as the Australian struggle for identity and dealing with patterns of immigration.
The third session of the day was titled The Big Bad – Fairytale Villians chaired by Peter M. Ball with Angela Slatter, Nalini Haynes and Margo Lanagan. Given the preponderance of fairy tale based literature and television of late (I’ve been enjoying the TV series Grim for instance), I thought this would be an interesting session looking at a currently “hot” topic. It was a well run session, with commentary on gender roles in fairy tale villianary, the evolution and sanitation of fairy tales, rediscovering the original “bones” of fairy tales and how to translate them into something that will still scare a contemporary audience.
Next was one of the keynote sessions with one of the guests of honour, Kelly Link interviewed by Kate Eltham. As well as being a celebrated author, Ms Link is one of the principals in Small Beer Press and had some very interesting insights into modern publishing trends. Her hypothesis that Amazon will end up with their own small bookstores, with full integration into their online ordering and delivery networks was thought provoking. As was her thoughts of the impact of Amazon dominance on the viability of mid tier publishing firms in the US.
Ms Link is a graduate of the Clarion workshops in the US, as well as being very involved in the organisation as a teacher and organiser. Her reflections made me even more keen to one day attend Clarion South (if it is ever resurrected) – it sounds like an amazing experience.
After a quick lunch break, the next session I attended was a live recording of one of the podcasts I like listening to, Galactic Suburbia. It needed to fit within a one hour session, so was shorter than usual. It was also less attended than I expected (although the launch of the anthology Ishtar was happening at the same time and I would have liked to attend that as well – perhaps everyone was over there). It was a fairly typical episode, although it was interesting to hear about where the three hosts had spent their time at the convention. Alexandria Pierce discussed Game of Thrones and the growing agency of the female characters over the arc of season 1. This corresponds with something I’d been thinking as well, in fact I’d go as far as to say that part of the point of the show is the growing agency of the younger characters in particular, especially the female characters. Fun to listen as always.
The next session was Playing God – A Guide for Beginners hosted by Michael Pryor and joined by Tansy Rayner Roberts, Trudi Canavan, Alison Goodman and Louise Cusack. This session explored the starting point the panel members used for world building, including academic research, physically visiting locations that were similar, looking to history and taking an “invent it as you go” approach. The panel members included some interesting anecdotes about mistakes they’d made (note to self – always draw any maps early to avoid embarrassment). I also picked up a few good tips e.g. finding an animating detail – some small detail from a time period that helps bring a scene alive. The session focused more on basing fantasy in time periods from Earth’s history rather than completely making something up from scratch, but was still interesting.
I then went to see the session All SF TV is Rubbish a comedy debate between Josh Kinal and John Richards of Boxcutters podcast fame. Mr Kinal took the affirmative position (risky at a SF convention) and Mr Richards took the negative position (as is fitting for a man who has written a TV show about a SF fan club – Outland).
Some excellent use of selective video clips was utilised on each side of the debate, and admittedly it was sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the good science fiction clips and the bad. However, I think Mr Richards clinched the argument when he demonstrated that a clip from what is universally acknowledged to be one of the worst Doctor Who episodes of all time was still better than any randomly selected segment of Packed to the Rafters. And it wins Logies.
By general acclaim Mr Richards was declared the winner.
My final session of the day was attending the A New Age of Australian Small Press moderated by Russell B Farr with fellow panel members Lindy Cameron and Amanda Pillar. Some very interesting discussion of the current state of small press in Australia, including comparisons with the kind of relationships authors can expect and some fascinating insights into how the three panelists got into the small press scene and what their future plans were.
I had a family event to get to, so I skipped out at that stage and didn’t go to the costume parade and Maskobalo Ball which is, I’m sure, still going as I write. Now it is off to bed to prepare for tomorrow, which will be a very long day (full day of conference activities followed by the Ditmar and Chronos award ceremony).