Sunday 8th April
During the night, it occurred to me that I couldn’t be the only delegate in this large conference who had bought more books than I could carry home – so went to the Ops office to see if they could help. After the realisation struck that it being the Easter week-end, all postal services would be suspended, the lovely folks suggested that I post an ad in the conference newsletter appealing for help from someone who lived in my neck in the woods. Everyone was universally good humoured and helpful as I typed up my yell for help, which early on Sunday morning struck me as really impressive.
Met up with Susan and after brekkie, we made our way to the first panel of the day. It seemed the obvious choice in these days of media platforms and online self marketing.
Promoting Yourself Online
With Facebook, Google +, WordPress, eBlogger and Twitter all clamouring to pull you away from writing your Great Work, the first question raised was – which one really matters? Fortunately for the rest of us, everyone on the panel was very clear on that one – Twitter. If you don’t do anything else, getting a Twitter account and regularly tweeting is a useful way to allow your fans to get to know you. There was lots of useful advice about how to negotiate Twitterverse and areas to stay away from. Mhairi Simpson, YA writer and blogger, made some really useful contributions – to the extent that Paul Cornell suggested that she should be a panel member on the subject at a future conference.
Kaffeeklatsch with Cory Doctorow
Once more my complete lack of direction meant that I staggered into the infamously tucked-away Room 19 ten minutes late, somewhat wild-eyed. I love Cory’s work – Makers is one of the best near-future books I’ve yet to read and was interested to discover the person behind his clever, streetwise writing. He is clearly currently very engrossed in the issue of corporate stupidity – particularly banks and Government. It was a fascinating 45 minutes listening and watching the ideas pour out of his mouth. Think a Cory character will one day surface in one of my books – if I can do justice to his razorlike intelligence…
Wench! Fetch Yon Tankard Here…
This was another excellent session, with plenty of fun to be had along the way, as the panellists knocked around various terrible examples of what didn’t work – along with a number of useful tips that helped them in their own writing. I was impressed to see that although some of the contributors on the panels were clearly showing signs of wear and tear, they were still able to string together sentences that made sense.
After lunch, I went along to the book signing session with my copy of Lightborn – and found myself pouring out my sad story of how my publisher ran out of funds just before my debut novel was due to be printed… Tricia Sullivan was so very kind and wrote a lovely message in the front of my book. You sometimes meet up with people whose work you admire – and discover that they absolutely are all that their awesome writing implies. A very special moment.
I decided to give myself the afternoon off to slump in the bar and chat to friends. Mhairi gave me a lesson on how to use Tweetdeck, bless her! While I found myself gazing across the table at Fran Terminiello – an odd feeling to actually meet up with someone I’ve been busy exchanging tweets with since Fantasycon last year… Had a wonderful conversation with Rob and Jenny Haines about all sorts of stuff that I find really exciting and interesting – and was fascinated to learn that he was also one of the 22 who Angry Robot requested to see a full manuscript in their open submission session last year.
I attended Susan’s reading of her book, Lake of Destiny, a fantasy adventure set in the Middle Ages that I’ve enjoyed and reviewed.
Do I have anything to report about the BSFA Awards Ceremony and the fuss thereof? No – I wasn’t there so don’t feel qualified to comment. What I can report is as a single woman wandering around the conference, at no time did I feel vulnerable. It was great to see so many families with children around the place and the balance of men and women – and the number of young people of both sexes.
Attending this panel was something of a last minute decision – but I’m really glad that I did. Gerry – a larger than life character, who also proved to be a real scientist – was making the case for our leaving the planet Earth and continuing to evolve up in space in a fleet of Worldships. He provided drawings and designs that would be viable once humanity attained a solar system economy. By the end of the thoroughly entertaining session, he had me half convinced… And determined to find out a lot more about the British Interplanetary Society.
Monday 9th April
Had a note under my door from Julian who lived in Brighton, that he would be prepared to ferry my bag of books home – and deliver them. Be honest – when I’d typed up my short ad in the conference newsletter, I’d not really expected a response so was blown away that someone had thought to break their stride to help out a stranger whose lack of planning had got her in a hole of her own making…
In the meantime, back to the panels. As ever there were far more on offer than I could actually get to, and again, I wanted some chill time.
When Science Meets SF
An outstanding offering. All the panellists were happy to discuss how they researched their ideas and where they felt their weaknesses lay. Jaine Fenn had studied Linguistics and Astronomy, but found Maths challenging. Tricia Sullivan strongly recommended the Khan Academy, a free online series of excellent quality tutorials on the main subjects – including Maths up to calculus and everyone suggested that The New Scientist was a reasonably reliable all-round magazine for keeping up with the latest scientific developments. It was also pointed out that it didn’t necessarily pay to get too precise with your scientific gizmos, as some of the science fiction written back in the 1940’s and 50’s now is seriously dated for that very reason, whereas the stories with a ‘softer’ science fiction approach often still seem relevant.
I wasn’t initially terribly interested in going to the Hay Lecture, but when everyone around me seemed keen, I tagged along…
Invisible Women? Scientists People Don’t See
This talk was given by Lesley Hall and was something of a shock. I’m a historian by training who is accustomed to the notion of women having been eased out of a lot of mainstream history. I also read a reasonable amount of popular science periodicals and books. However, I was completely ignorant about the majority of the women on the Powerpoint display as Lesley Hall gave us a potted history of some of their lives and their contributions to science. She is a witty, accomplished speaker and this talk was both informative and interesting. And depressing.
The Data Deluge and the End of Science
I’m no mathematician or computer specialist. But when the likes of Alliette de Bodard, David L. Clements, Lesley Hall and Nicholas Jackson – as well as a number of the audience – started seriously discussing the sheer scale of the problem, my jaw hit the ground. I was dimly aware that there was an issue, of course I was… But when they all talked about the huge volume of raw data generated by automated space travel and the likes of the Hadron collider and how much processing power it takes to crunch it down into findings scientists are looking for, it was mind boggling. The sheer physical space required to store such a huge amount of data is one problem. Then there is the media. Parchment is proven to last anything up to 500 years. A floppy disc can significantly degrade within a decade – if you still have the hardware to run it, that is… And CD’s and DVD’s are also unreliable for storing anything long term. Quite often the original raw data is simply destroyed after scientists have quarried it for their research purposes as the cost involved in keeping it is prohibitive – thus preventing anyone returning to the original data to either double-check their results, or start a new line of enquiry in the light of alternative hypotheses raised further down the line… You don’t have to be a Nobel prizewinner to see the possible catastrophic consequences of THAT practice, given the eye-watering costs of obtaining that data in the first place.
The only real downside to this eye-opening panel, is that the room was stiflingly hot and terribly overcrowded. I suppose it was a tribute to the conference overall that this wasn’t a problem I encountered in the huge majority of the panels – but it was a shame.
I hadn’t attended the Opening Ceremony, reasoning that it would probably be a lot of fluffle, but decided to go to the Closing do as I’d had such an enjoyable time, I wanted to clap and cheer the hard-working souls who’d made it happen. As predicted, there was a lot of clapping and cheering going on. And prizes handed out. And handing over the responsibility from the worn shoulders of Rita Medany to Juliet E. McKenna, who has a hard act to follow… And as icing on the cake, there was an inspiring film of views of Earth taken from the cupola of the space station by a variety of the astronauts. Very moving.
As I prepared to hand over my bag of books to Julian in the atrium after the closing ceremony, Howard hurried over and introduced himself. It appears that he lives less than a mile away and was prepared to taxi my books home for me. Wonderful!
After dinner, Mhairi and I attended the screening of Buffy the Musical, complete with words and belted out the songs with a roomful of other people. Great fun!
From Fan to Pro
This was amazing. It started out as an examination of how true fans manage to become writers and professional editors, featuring Paul Cornell, Kari Sperring, Charles Stross as the advertised panel – immediately joined by Jo Walton and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, senior editor of Tor. This session quickly turned into a series of interesting anecdotes by the panellists triggered by questions from the floor and proved so riveting that a fair number of us were still sitting in the room at 11.30 pm – an hour and a half after the panel should have finished. And we then adjourned to the bar…
Everyone was approachable and friendly and after once more mentioning my unfortunate experience with my debut-novel-that-wasn’t, Charles Stross, Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Jo Walton all were generous with advice about what I should do next.
And this last experience summed up what conventions are all about. How often in any walk of life these days, do you get a chance to meet up with people whose work is known around the world? And yet in our genre, conventions give fans a chance to talk to authors about what they’ve written and discuss all aspects – often in head-swivelling detail. What we discover is that well known, successful writers are just like us – people who love escaping into other worlds and exploring other possibilities…
Regrets… Yes – I would have liked to have a chance to talk to more people. AND attend more panels. The ones that got away:-
How To Knit a Dalek – the finished result was so very cool…
The Imaginary Gripe session – this really appealed to the grumpy git in me.
At least I still have my dignity – I figured this one about hard drinking fans would have been wonderfully indiscreet…
You Got Your Robot Elf Sex in my SF – Who wouldn’t want to attend a session with a title like that??
Maybe by next year, I’ll have those clones sorted out.