King’s Head, Beverly was the venue for another great event from Humber SFF, organised by the redoubtable Shellie Horst. The guests were a very entertaining double act: Stephen Aryan and RJ Barker. Both are established authors with multiple books to their names, and both offered the gathered audience useful insights into the publishing industry and the life of a writer.
Stephen Aryan’s latest novels are a duology: The Coward and The Warrior. The Coward looks at the reality of post-traumatic stress and what happens when the hero is recalled to save the world a second time.
RJ Barker regaled the audience with his journey from failed musician to successful writer. His Tide Child trilogy is set in a remarkable world where Bone Ships sail the seas. He asked himself what would a world look like without a resource which we take for granted? In this case: wood or material to build boats/ships. He was inspired by whalebone carvings and created a massive ocean-going leviathan that was pursued to extinction in order to use its bones to build ships. A fascinating world and a fascinating read.
Both authors treated the audience to readings from their current novels. A real pleasure to listen to. Questions from the audience were taken panel-style with both Stephen and RJ pitching in. It was a relaxed and enjoyable evening with several members of the audience being put on RJ’s ‘naughty list’ for asking particularly challenging questions that made both authors dig deep.
I’m looking forward to the next event on 27th November, with Sunyi Dean and Daniel Godfrey as guest speakers. Get your tickets early!
The British Fantasy Society annual convention was held September 17th – 18th at the Raddison Red Hotel, Heathrow. Although a slightly curtailed version of the annual convention that we all know and love, it was still well worth the time, money and effort it took to get there. I arrived on Friday night (16th) so that I would be ready for the full onslaught of panels running through Saturday and Sunday morning.
There was a lot to choose from! I opted to start with ‘Portraying Families in SFFH’ as my own writing is family orientated. The panel discussed the fact that the expectations of readers are now more focused on the depth of familial relationships–they want to see internal conflict and have an opportunity to flex their empathy. While this is certainly true, not all satisfying family dynamics are centered around conflict. For example, the four Fallow sisters in Liz Williams’ Comet Weather provide a more cooperative model of family dynamics.
My next port of call was the panel on ‘Writing Humour’, ably moderated by Sandra Unerman. The panel discussed ‘ways to approach the arduous task of being funny’. It certainly is an arduous task for me. The panel was interesting, informative and, yes, genuinely funny. David Wragg, by his own admission, aims to be intentionally funny in his books; he made it clear that you need the implied consent of the reader and that you must ask yourself: are you making a good point? Dan Hanks emphasised the need for humorous banter to be organic (‘organic’ is a term that came up a lot during the panels); and Jen Williams discussed her challenges around removing humour from her latest crime novel. When is humour appropriate? A good question.
‘Character Development in Short Stories’ was interesting and a good refresher. In short stories, characters are the ‘glue’ that holds everything together. All panelists agreed that any physical descriptions of characters need to be short and must appear early in the story. ‘Love, Sex, Magic: Romance and Relationships in SFFH’ was entertaining in its own way and covered familiar ground around gender issues.
The Guest of Honour this year was Liz Williams, a prolific writer and stalwart of the annual Milford Speculative Fiction Writers’ Conference. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her speak. Knowledgeable, insightful and overall deftly done.
The panels on ‘Religion in SFFH’ and ‘Mental Health in SFFH’ gave me plenty to think about in relation to my writing (and the writing of others). Religion is certainly a useful tool when it comes to world building and can be used to drive the plot forward. What I need to consider is how religion makes my characters think and how it influences their behaviour. And yes, when it comes to the depiction of mental health in SFFH, we really do need to do better. As pointed out by Tej Turner, a mental health issue could just as easily be a strength as a weakness. There was an interesting discussion on the need for trigger warnings in books–again, Tej suggested the use of links to the author’s website rather than include possible spoilers at the beginning of the book.
‘Writing Older Characters’ raised a number of interesting ideas. Firstly, the relationship between how old a character is compared to their natural lifespan, which can be very different in the SFF genres. There was an interesting discussion around the implications of older characters actually being immortal. The point was made that older characters already have their own story arc in motion (baggage, a complicated past) and are likely to have a different perspective on events. There are not as many tropes around older people, which may give a writer more freedom. While older characters can certainly learn new skills (e.g. technical skills), they can’t replicate the mindset of the young. I can’t remember which panelist quoted Oscar Wilde ‘I’m not young enough to know everything’. Terry Pratchett’s character, Nanny Ogg, was agreed to be everyone’s favourite older character. She gets my vote too!
I’m already looking forward to next year’s Fantasy Convention in Birmingham 🙂