My First Literary Con!

So… first of all, I think I need to thank my wonderful, awesome, fabulously sexy, loving and amazing partner for giving me a gentle, barely there push to do what I did yesterday. He’s got this fabulous way of pushing, without pushing and suggesting, without suggesting that gets me moving and doing things that are only good for me.

So what did I do…?
Yesterday I went to the Write East Midlands, Alt Fiction festival featuring authors, editors and publishers of the horror, fantasy and sci-fi genres. It was amazing!

I’ve never been to an event like that before; filled with names of the industry that make people squee and wet their pants. I spent plenty of time squealing, but mainly because it was so much fun! I’m not at all ashamed to say I didn’t recognise a single name there (except one) but that does tell me that my plan to read as many authors as possible that I haven’t before, is a worthwhile activity. I recognised Graham Joyce because of the writer’s club back last year. That was waaaaaaaaay back in the early days of this blog. I’m pretty certain he didn’t remember me, but his advice when I went to one of his workshops was fabulously useful, as was the advice of Colin Harvey, even if he’s the ‘sci-fi guy.’

So… three panels, one podcast, two workshops and plenty of rushing around talking to people, handing out cards, listening to what people do, how they do it and why they do it.

The first workshop was ‘Is There Anywhere New For Science Fiction To Go?’ and that was great! Even I’m not at all an author of Sci-Fi, listening to Alastair Reynolds, Tony Ballantyne, Ian Whates and John Jarrold talk about the potential of the genre really made me feel better about choosing such a tricky career path. And I’ve decided that I like John Jarrold a great deal. I like the way he thinks and I enjoy the way he speaks; listening to him was very pleasant. And he had this way of capturing the entire room which seemed, to me, to be a mix of respect and fear. Lol. His name kept coming up afterwards as well and I recognised that he is an editor of some renown (his agency looked after Robert Jordan – squeeeeeeeeeee!).

It was the second panel, however, which was my favourite; ‘Has Fantasy Moved Past Tolkien?’ Well of course it has, but its interesting that Tolkien has left so much of a stamp on the world with work Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit. Adrian Tchaikovsky, Graham McNeill, Gav Thorpe and Juliet McKenna all clustered together for a fabulous chin wag. They touched on the racism debate with the ‘black’ orcs and ‘fair, white’ elves and then even mentioned the fact that the ‘original’ elves, faeries and pixies are not as we have come to understand them now. The old folklore painted a much darker picture of these creatures and Tolkien somehow managed to make them lighter and brighter and pretty when they used to be the types that drank the blood of cattle and kidnapped your kids. It was all a wonderful eye-opening exercise and just listening to them has given me some ideas that I’d like to run on with in the form of short stories or novels.

I was late for the last panel too (oops) but it was on scriptwriting. Robert Shearman, I’ve decided, seems like a funny and likeable kind of guy and he was a writer for Doctor Who (last series I think). I liked hearing them talk about their experiences, but I know that’s not quite the type of writing I want; despite working on things like HouseMates.

The podcast, which will probably be available to listen to here, featured Rod Rees, Guy Haley, Colin Harvey and Pat Kelleher talking about how they ‘broke into’ the writing world. That was very interesting and its fascinating how different the experiences of each author has been. It did stop me in my tracks though… by that point, I was slightly more relaxed than I had been on the way in and I was more open to asking questions and being heard. I sat there, thinking quietly that I could throw a massive spanner in the gears by asking a question that had been bugging me for about an hour. I didn’t though… I resisted.

But can you spot what my question might have been? It might be a bit harder without pictures of these authors, but if you look, so far I’ve named one woman. One. All these men are middle aged; from forty years of age and up with a couple of exceptions (I think Guy and Pat were somewhat younger). Not only that, but everyone of these people are white.

Now… in this day an age of being PC and equal and ‘one-world’ and all the rest of it, I’m fascinated by this. I was the only (and I shit you not, the only) black person at that event. Couple that with the fact that I’m a woman in a male dominated world and I did have a brief moment of panic. Well… not panic exactly, but I did have a moment of wondering ‘are they asking themselves what the hell I’m doing here?’

And I actually did put it into a question eventually; I asked Colin Harvey in his workshop. In hindsight that was a bit mean and poorly planned, since he had a workshop to run and time was ticking, but I couldn’t help myself: ‘When writing a book and looking for an agent and/or a publisher you’re not just selling you’re book; you’re selling yourself as well…. Looking at the panels and groups here today, the authors and editors are predominantly older, white men. I am a younger, black woman. Is that marketable? Obviously it shouldn’t make a difference if the quality of the writing is what people care about, but I do feel rather intimidated by what I’ve seen here today.’

Well… that’s how the question should have sounded, but it didn’t. I got my point across, but I wasn’t quite as eloquent as that (ah well).

His answer made me think. He told me that at the point where the initial selling happens, i.e. on paper, finding an agent or publisher, nobody knows what I look like or how old I am. Its not written at the top of my work, is it? ‘Young, black fantasy writer?’ Of course it isn’t. Anyway, he said that I could make as big or as little a deal out of it as I wanted to. In fact, I could gloss over it completely because its not important.

Now that was nice to hear, but it was the response from the chap eavesdropping that I liked a whole lot more. I wish I could remember his name – I think it was John – but I’m not sure. Regardless, I want to thank him, because he’s given me something to think about. And I’ve said it before; anything that I can use that makes me different, separate, more interesting, I should use. Anything that an agent and/or publisher can use as a hook to get people interested can and should be used. So… why the hell shouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t I?

I don’t know. I don’t want to build a career on a fact/idea/thought that is actually irrelevant; after all, I’m a writer. I write and its the writing that I want to be known and acknowledged and enjoyed. At the same time, I do wonder, at the back of my mind, if I really have picked a harder world than most to try to ‘break into.’

The raffle was great fun. As a rule, I’m lucky enough (I haven’t been hit by a car, never been on a plane that crashed into the ocean, you know, that sort of luck) but I’ve never won even £1 on the lottery or a raffle. But I bought two strips and then settled in to watch the comedy. Guy Adams and Sarah Pinborough were incredibly funny on stage together, going through the lots and when they got to the one which contained a ‘filthy sex scene’ I do admit that I sat up a little straighter and paid more attention. Imagine my glee therefore, when Guy calls out ‘pink 22’ and I realise that that is my ticket! Not only that, but that its on the second strip of tickets that I nearly didn’t buy!. Well that was fabulous! I am now the proud owner of a special edition hardback version of The Wizard Oak by Peter Crowther and I’m very much looking forward to reading it! All the more so because Peter found me some time after the raffle and personally apologised for any offence the book might cause. !!! I can’t WAIT to get my teeth into this baby; it sounds like the type of thing I’d love!

The book store was fabulous too. I’ve picked so many books this weekend that I’m going to be occupied for the next couple of months; I can’t wait to get started; its going to be grand! Some were free, some I bought for various humours reasons but all will be enjoyable. Let’s see… I’ve got:

Bartimaeus: The Amulet of Samarkand (picked up for free)
-by Jonathan Stroud

Naked Brunch (purple cover, it looked sparkly and it had fangs on the front, I bought it)
-by Sparkle Hayter

Desdaemona (picked up for free, chosen over several others because there was a werewolf on the cover)
-by Ben Macallan

The Poison Throne (picked up for free and I liked the fact that I have a friend of the same name)
-by Celine Kiernan

The Gabble (and other stories) (picked up for free; figured why not an anthology???)
-by Neal Asher

The Star Faction (can’t remember what drew me to this; but I bought it anyway)
-by Ken Macleod

You Suck (seriously? Its called ‘you suck!’ You really shouldn’t have to ask why I bought this one!)
-by Christopher Moore

Mindstar Rising (picked up for free; was going to swap it for Desdaemona, but ended up with both anyway)
-by Peter F. Hamilton

Consider Phlebas (I’ve never read anything by this guy, so I thought I should since people make so much fuss about him. So bought it)
-by Iain M. Banks

There you go. Couple that with The Wizard Oak and I have ten new books to read.

So… to celebrate my stepping out of my literary closet, here’s a deal I’m going to make with you. I’m going to review these books as I read them. Each and every one. A bit like the 80 Post Challenge, I’ll make a feature of it, the posts will have their own tag and I’ll let you know what I think about each one. In fact, I may keep doing it. There are two books I read while in Tenerife that are authors I don’t know; I’ll review those too. I think its good practise for me too; to get into the habit of understanding the thoughts and words other people might use about my work one day.

Phew! Right, I’ve talked for ages, done for now. I’m sure I’ve missed loads; like the rest of the fabulous people I talked to (Raven, John, Rax, Theresa, Phil, Sarah) but I can’t make these posts too long!

About Ileandra Young

I'm a thirty-*mumbles* year old (purple loving, cheese worshipping) author of fantasy, juggling a pair of beautiful twin boys with my burning desire to make up stories and write them all down. When I get the chance, I play games, listen to music, and in days long past I even ran a radio show. Though I occasionally write non-fiction, my heart lives in fantasy and my debut novel, Silk Over Razor Blades is now available through Amazon along with part two of the trilogy, Walking The Razor's Edge.
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14 Responses to My First Literary Con!

  1. Simon Manley says:

    Thank you so much for your on going informative posts that help inform my own creative process. I’m thrilled you had such a great time and have such a supportive partner. :o)
    – Wolfie


    • Your mention of being the only young, black woman at the event reminded me of seeing Dreda Say Mitchell on the ‘New Writers’ panel at the Harrogate Crime-Writing Festival a few years ago. Non-white faces are equally rare in crime, yet for 2011 she’s returning as Programming Chair of the Festival. Make of that what you will 🙂


    • Glad I can help, Wolfie darling! I’ll be sure to let you know more details about the next one too. Its in July; maybe you can join me?


  2. Hi Ileandra. Please excuse me for butting in here, but a report on Alt.Fiction caught my eye and I wanted to respond to your comments about the old-white-male nature of the event.

    Firstly, yes, the UK SF&F community is very old-white-male. It has that in common with most writing communities around the world, though it is rather more so here than California, with which I’m also very familiar.

    Is that a problem for you? Well, yes and no. It is a fact of life that many old white males have grown up in an environment that has caused them to think less of people who are female, brown-skinned, gay or whatever. They may not all acknowledge those biases, but they are there. Colin is right in saying that your fiction does not have a gender or skin colour, but your name does, and for some people that will be all the clue that they need.

    On the other hand, as you say, some people will welcome the breath of fresh air that a writer from a different background can bring, and who don’t have any cultural biases. Those people exist in the UK as well. And if you can’t find them here, you can look elsewhere. Lots of online fiction magazines buy SF&F these days. Most of them are based in the US, but they’ll buy from anyone. I work for Clarkesworld, where we have published people such as Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemisin and Aliette de Bodard. You could also try Strange Horizons (founded by Mary Anne Mohanraj) or Apex, which recently ran a whole issue devoted to work by Muslim writers.

    If you have decided you like conventions, you may want to try BristolCon. I can’t promise an equal balance of men and women on panels, because we have to work with whichever published writers attend, but our two writer guests are women, our chair is a woman, and our head of programming is a woman, so we are well aware of the issues.


    • HI Cheryl, thank you for reading and thank you very much for your comments. Its not butting in at all, I’m delighted to hear from you, especially with such constructive and helpful words!

      Particularly thank you for mentioning Nnedi Okorafor as that was a name Colin mentioned and I’ve been desperately trying to remember her (and the spelling) since Saturday; I wanted to look her up. And N.K. Jemisin. I’m not familiar with Aliette de Bodard, but these are all names I’m going to spend some time looking into, so thank you very much.

      I think now that I’ve had time to come down from the high of the event and reflect on it, I can sit back and acknowledge that the bias is there right now, but it won’t stay that way. Or at least I don’t believe it will. The world is changing so fast and the fact that I’m not the only person asking the question means that there are folk out there thinking the same. Mainstream Partnership here in Leicester is devoted to aiding artists from black and minority ethnic background, and the work by Apex sounds particularly encouraging.

      Its certainly given me a lot to think about and routes to try and I’m looking forward to putting out my research feelers, particularly in fiction magazines (I had an idea yesterday that I’m bursting to write up and submit).

      You’re the second person to mention BristolCon to me now and I’m fairly happy that I’m going to be booking tickets for that soon. Look forward to seeing you there?


      • Glad to help. 🙂

        Aliette is French-Vietnamese. She’s a BSFA winner and Hugo nominee this year.

        If you are looking for other role models, I can recommend Nalo Hopkinson, Karen Lord and Helen Oyeyemi.

        And yes, I’ll be at BristolCon.


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