I thoroughly enjoyed my time at FantasyCon this year. Great panels, great people and a wonderful atmosphere. Such a packed and varied programme that I (and plenty of others) skipped lunch in order to attend as many interesting and (to us writers) valuable workshops and panels as possible.

Needless to say, I took loads of useful ideas away with me. Here are a few little gems:

Stealing from the Past: Fantasy in History (Jacey Bedford, Susan Boulton, Anne Lyle, Juliet E McKenna, Toby Venables, Susan Bartholomew)

  • What you think is true about history probably isn’t.
  • Think about: what are the usual rules in this time/society?
  • Find the base line (i.e. the ordinary people), so that you can then show what it means to be extraordinary in the time period.
  • There are so many ways that humanity has not changed over the millenia.


Protag/Antag: Character Creation (Ruth Booth, John Connolly, KT Davis, Peter Newman, James Oswald, Caroline Hooton)

  • Every character is a hero in their own minds (can justify their actions)
  • Play fair with the rules you have created
  • Keep your characters interesting and believable (know why your characters behave they way they do) then it doesn’t matter if they’re ‘good’ or ‘bad’
  • The hook can be not what you know about the character, but what you don’t
  • Less is more in many ways


Blades, Wands and Lasers: Fighting the Good Fight Scene (Clifford Beal, Juliet E McKenna, Kevin Murphy, Jo Thomas, James Barclay)

  • Think about the psychological aspects of a fight: when experts fight, their moves and counter moves are done automatically
  • In real life, sword fighters aim to disable via strikes to the neck, wrist and behind the knees
  • The aim is to get as many combatants off the field as possible. If you kill your opponent, his/her colleagues will just step over them and continue the fight. If you injure you opponent, his/her colleagues are more likely to want to take them to a medic (so three off the field with one injury)
  • Young men are more afraid of being disabled than being killed
  • Luck plays a huge part in any fight/battle
  • All fights happen one-to-one, whether in a duel or a battle
  • Tactics when confronted: 1. Run Away; 2. Break their will to attack
  • When fighting: Don’t look at the eyes (they can fake you out); Don’t look at the weapon; LOOK at the body language.

Quote: “The more I practice, the luckier I get.”

The last quote applies to fighting, but I think you can apply that to writing too!

There was lots of fun stuff to do in the evenings, of course. I particularly enjoyed the performed reading of ‘One for the Road’. A comic short story by Paul Kane, ably performed by James Barclay, Guy Adams, Lee Harris and Phil Lunt. They certainly brought to life the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse!

The live edition of Tea & Jeapardy was excellent and very entertaining. Emma Newman, assisted by Latimer the butler, interviewed Brandon Sanderson over tea and cake (and a cursed shield). Great stuff!

I’ve already booked my ticket for next year’s Fantasy Con, to be held in the wonderful seaside town of Scarborough.



This was my first visit to BristolCon – a one day SFF convention. I have attended the larger events (EasterCon, FantasyCon), which are great (an understatement, really). BristolCon offered all the types of events (panels, workshops, author readings, art gallery, dealers’ rooms) that a larger convention does, just on a smaller, more intimate scale. I was going to say more friendly, but in my experience all conventions are unerringly friendly and welcoming.

I attended panels on lost cities and abandoned places, the rise of AI’s and FTL travel. The guest of honour interviews were both interesting and entertaining – Jaine Fenn (author), Jasper Fforde (author) and Chris Moore (artist). The workshop on Multiple Story Arcs, run by Jonathan L Howard was particularly useful.

Favourite quotes from the Lost Cities and Abandoned Places panel:

“We project onto ruins our own stories.” Jaine Fenn

“Cities eat themselves.” Pete Sutton

There was a wonderful display of Chris Moore’s art – here’s my favourite piece”

chris moore

Book Review – Two of a Mind – S M Stuart

I have recently written a review of ‘Two of a Mind’ by S M Stuart for the British Fantasy Society. You can read it here:

London Short Story Prize 2015 now open for entries

Originally posted on ShortStops:

Managed by London’s writer development organisation Spread the Word, the London Short Story Prize 2015 is now open for entries.

The competition is open to writers over the age of 18 who live in the UK for stories of up to 8000 words that move, excite, enthrall and inspire on a theme and subject matter of your choice. This is the first year the competition is open to all UK residents (previously the competition was open to London residents only). The winner will receive £1000, a Brunel writing desk courtesy of Heal’s and publication via Spread the Word’s Flight Press short story anthology.

The judges

Jon McGregor by Dan Sinclair Jon McGregor by Dan Sinclair

Jon McGregor writes novels and short stories. His recent books include a short story collection, ‘This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You‘, and his third novel, ‘Even the Dogs‘, which won the IMPAC Dublin Literature Award in 2012. He…

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I had my first experience of TongueFu last night, as part of the Udderbelly festival. My daughter and I bypassed the tube strike by driving to the South Bank. It was worth it. Their website describes the event as: a riotous experiment in live literature, music, film and improvisation; frequently surprising, sometimes hilarious, often poignant and always unrehearsed.

All I can say is: WOW! The musicians, compere and invited artists were all equally, amazingly talented. What an experience! One that I am keen to repeat. Check out Vanessa Kisuule poety performances.

Dysprosium (otherwise known as Eastercon) – British Science Fiction Association

The 2015 Eastercon was held at The Park Inn, Heathrow (3rd to 6th April)—four days of panels, workshops, author interviews and readings, demonstrations… the list goes on… and packed full of science fiction and fantasy devotees. Heaven!

As always I was torn between equally attractive and compelling events that were, sigh, timetabled at the same day/time. This always happens. The hotel lounges were full of people agonising over the programme and trying to decide what to go to next (apart from the dedicated bar loungers, who concentrated on catching up with old friends and the making the most of the networking opportunities—another essential aspect of any BSFA convention).

So, what did I see/do over those four days?

Friday was effectively a half-day, starting at lunch-time. For me it had a very practical focus: How to Find an Agent, and a panel on the ‘Maturing Readership in Young Adult Fiction’.

How to Find an Agent – pointers included checking out the Literary Rejections website and Query Shark for example synopsise and letters. A challenge was posed to the audience: Can you pitch your book in a tweet? It’s something that Gollancz is asking their authors to do!

Query Tracker – Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Agent Query – database of literary agents.

Saturday was a packed, full-on day. The highlights for me were the two editing workshops:

Editing your masterpiece, run by Elsewhen press, where participants were encouraged to bring along a short story that needed work. Four authors published by Elsewhen press were on hand to help and advise. The workshop was professionally run, but kept a friendly and helpful atmosphere at all times.

An editorial workshop was also run by Donna Scott. This was another extremely useful and well-run event. Key areas covered:

  • Clean and lean use of adjectives and adverbs
  • Show-don’t-Tell
  • Watch out for mixed metaphors
  • Cliché away
  • I taught I tore a tautology
  • Is there an echo in here… here… here?
  • Once upon a time there was a way of introducing a character that won’t do anymore

That’s enough for one post. I’ll catch up on the Sunday and Monday events next time…

Listen to Good Advice, but Trust Yourself

Susan May Oke:

All really useful advice from a great writer.

Originally posted on Jacey Bedford:

I’m a great advocate of writers’ critique groups, either face to face or online, but every person you show your writing to will have a different opinion:
“You over-explain.”
“I don’t understand X, could you unpack it a little more?”
“The opening is bogged down in too much detail.”
“I think you could develop the world a little more in the first few paragraphs.”
“I love the way the characters develop.”
“Your main character is two-dimensional.”

That doesn’t mean to say you have to ignore all those contradictory opinions, but it’s up to you to decide which ones to accept and which to reject.

Listen to good advice.
If you can find a good writing group, face-to-face or online, make use of it. This is especially important for writers working towards first time publication, or maybe for writers of short stories who are working towards novel publication. Make sure…

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Yes, Agents Google Writers

Susan May Oke:

This is useful info for a writer. Something I really need to get my head around. I’ve got to stop saying I’m too busy to post!

Originally posted on Carly Watters, Literary Agent: This is the social media elephant in the room.

You don’t query in a vacuum. If you write a query letter and an agent is intrigued (congratulations!) the next thing an agent does is Google you or click on the links in your signature to see where it takes us.

A writer’s virtual footprint is their resume at that point.

Here are my ‘online guidelines’ for writers:

  • Make sure you have a landing page. It could be Tumblr, WordPress, or a website. You only need one, but make sure you have one that has good SEO–Wordpress or a domain name is best for that.
  • Make sure you’re not a digital ghost. If we Google you and nothing comes up it makes us think 1) you don’t take this seriously and 2) that you don’t understand social media and the importance of an online presence and that worries us. It’s a red…

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The Flash Challenge

Long form is my shutterstock_203226655forte. The freedom of chapter after chapter, building the story. I need space to stretch and explore. Short stories are a challenge, one that always leaves me with a question: perhaps this really is a novella, or maybe even a novel? Sigh. So imagine what writing flash fiction is like.

That said, I’ve had a few flash fiction pieces published over the last few months. The most recent being ‘Distant Fires’ in the Life is a Roller Coaster anthology. It was a kind of tortuous fun. This particular piece started out at 1,250 words, an achievement in itself. I then spent a long weekend reducing that to the required 750 words. That was agony; being forced to find ever more effective ways to get the message across, cutting and cutting, trying to parse backstory into, in some cases, a single word choice. While painful, it was an exercise that left me feeling both pleased and surprisingly energised. I could actually do it.

Example: Encapsulating the relationship between son and father (the only mention of the father)

I’m here most nights. Dad noticed: ‘Finally got a life, have you boy?’ I nodded. We left it at that.

Now it’s time for me to concentrate on finishing THE BOOK. I’ve learnt a lot working on flash fiction, though. It’s a discipline that I can make good use of in crafting longer stories, and it’s one that I will go back to when I need a break from the complexity of novel writing.

If you write long form, try your hand at flash. Trust me. It’s good for you.

August: Renew

Susan May Oke:

Love this piece!

Originally posted on arike writes | stories:

In July, August and September I have to write a lot to finish my course. Instead of writing new things for my blog I’m going to tart up some old things. An early version of this story appeared in Words With Jam magazine in 2011. Let me know what you think.

We’re Chained

The ice cubes in Ali’s glass made tiny twitches as the vodka melted them. ‘This means something,’ she said, her voice hoarse.

‘I’m sorry?’ I said. My chest ached with the sadness that bore down on my ribs. I wanted to drink, and talk, and not think about the way each second, or gesture or even thought, was a second, gesture and thought further from where you and I had been.

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