Yesterday (Saturday 16th March) I attended the second NSW Speculative Fiction Festival
at the NSW Writers’ Centre.
I started off badly, having somehow got it into my head that the day started at 10:30am. I turned up to a full car park, but couldn’t find any people. Imagine the fierceness of my blushing when I realised everyone was in the first session, which had been going for over 1/2 hour. I decided to wait for the second session to save the stinging embarrassment of entering 5 minutes before the end. It also let me pre-order my lunch. Win-win in my books.
My second problem came when the lovely people manning the front desk realised my badge had been taken! An impostor was roaming the rooms of the festival, having stolen my identity and slipped comfortably into the persona of a complete neophyte writer with no paid publications to his name.
Wait, why would someone do that?
I was assured that they had seen my badge that very morning, but now it was nowhere to be found. A hastily constructed replacement around my neck, I set forth to conquer the festival.
But I kept an eye on every name badge I passed, I can tell you.
So, the second session of the day and the first I attended was titled Publishing Into the Future, chaired by Russell Farr (of Ticonderoga Press) with panel members Zoe Walton (Random House Australia), Joel Naoum (Momentum) and Dionne Lister. The general answer to the question “what is the future of publishing” seemed to be “buggered if we know”, but there was some interesting exploration of the mix of publishing options and a general expectation that the book would survive, in some form or another. Phew. I enjoyed the panel, although some answers were a little verbose, I think they could have covered a lot more ground in the time available. That being said, there was some interesting reflections on the changes in marketing that have accompanied the rise of the eBook. If I ever publish a novel in eBook only format, I’ll have a lot to think about.
I also got to hear Joel Naoum’s theory relating interactive books to masturbation. I can’t do it justice. Next time you’re talking with him, bring it up.
The second panel, The Allure of Epic Fantasy, was chaired by Ian Irvine and included Melina Marchetta, Pamela Freeman and Garth Nix (a last minute substitute for Duncan Lay). The panel ended up focusing more on the authors writing style (plotter vs pantster) and their general approach to writing. Garth Nix was a very polished presenter (obviously gets a lot of practice). Actually, all four panelists were excellent in this session, and while it was only tangentially covering epic fantasy, I found this the “inspiring” session of the day.
All inspired, I then enjoyed lunch with the inimitable Lynda Young. Lyn has been a great support to me in my writing and I always enjoy the chance to catch up. Lyn had a story published in a US based anthology (Make Believe) last year, and I really enjoyed hearing about her experiments in marketing in that environment (I had to admit that while I bought the anthology and read her story just after it was released, I hadn’t quite got to the other stories in the anthology and so hadn’t done a review on this website. Bad writing friend. Must fix that as quickly as possible).
Towards the end of lunch we were joined by Patrick Keuning, a relatively new writer who has recently got his first paid publication with a story in the new In-Fabula Divino anthology. Patrick was (justifiably) as pleased as punch, and I saw him actively promoting the book throughout the day. He has documented his experience of the day on his website, go and have a look to hear more! Rick has also provided excellent feedback on my work in the past, I’m looking forward to seeing more of his writing in the future.
After lunch I attended Oh the Horror! The Future of Weird Fiction. I was excited about this panel, it contained three of my favourite authors – Deborah Biancotti, Kirstyn McDermott and Jason Nahrung. Actually, now I’m worried that the fourth member of the panel, Robert Hood, might feel left out. Robert, I know you probably read the blog. I have to admit I haven’t had the pleasure of reading your work as yet. But I’m sure you would be one of my favourite writers if I had, based on nothing other than the company you keep.
In any case, I digress (did someone mention “too verbose” earlier in this blog? Friends, let’s not quibble). The panel tried to define “horror”, in contrast with “weird”. I really liked Nahrung’s characterisation – horror tries to take something known and make it unknown and leave the reader unsettled, while weird tries to take something known and make it unknown, but leave the reader with a sense of wonder (he said it better than that, but that is why he is a name brand author and I’m writing this blog post).
A very interesting dissection of the broad horror genre ensued. Horror is one part of the speculative fiction spectrum that I’ve struggled to grapple with and I always like the chance to hear skilled practitioners debate the craft.
This session was also notable because in it, while listening to a brief aside about the atheist nature of zombies, I was suddenly struck with a new angle to a story I’ve been struggling with for ages. I really liked the angle as well. To be honest, I would have considered the whole day a success just for that. Good times.
In any case, I ended that session suitably creeped out.
The next session I attended was Short and Not So Sweet: writing and publishing short fiction, chaired by Cat Sparks and including Angela Slatter, Lisa Hannett and Dirk Strasser. An interesting discussion on the short story market was had, with some great thoughts on whether we were on the edge of another short story boom as people seek out bite-sized content to consume on the go. There was universal agreement that one should start submitting to the pro-markets immediately, but I did keep in mind that this was a group of multi-award winning short story writers. With their skills, I’d probably focus on the pro markets as well. I’m pretty sure there are no awards in my near future, but still the advice to aim high is good advice.
As an aside, Cat Sparks (who is the fiction editor at Cosmos, which is a pro market) noted the lack of Australian submissions to her publication. I thought to myself “Well, she’ll get a few more on the back of saying that“, but I notice that Cosmos is currently closed for submissions. As is Aurealis, where fellow panel member Dirk Strasser holds court. I suspect there are a lot of disappointed newbie writers out there today!
I popped out to stretch my legs before the last session, and bumped into Jason Nahrung. We started chatting about his new book (Blood and Dust, which I reviewed here and is available from Amazon or at the publisher Xoum’s website). It was an interesting conversation, covering everything from the challenges of marketing in the eBook world, through to my experience of reading Blood and Dust and even Jason’s process in working on his next novel (which I’m very excited about!). In fact, it was so interesting that I completely forgot to attend the last session of the day. Oops. I’m sure others have covered in admirably in other blogs.
Some further brief but interesting chats with Ben Chandler on his role in evaluating grant applications in South Australia and Richard Harland on his upcoming steampunk release (Song of the Slums). Before I knew it, the book launch of Prickle Moon by Juliet Marillier from Ticonderoga Press had started. So over a glass of red, I had the pleasure of listening to some excellent readings and general discussion of the book.
Sadly, it being after 6:00pm and my wife having
been stuck with enjoyed the company of the children all day, I had to head off. Just like last time, I found the festival to be a great re-charger of my enthusiasm batteries. I look forward to many more.
Next stop – Conflux.
Oh, and I never did find my doppelgänger.