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BristolCon 2016 – Convention Review

I went to Bristol. I’ve been before and usually get lost in the one way system. SatNav is no help, not for me and I speak as Geography graduate with many years’ experience at getting lost.

Panorama of Bristol by Klafubra

More importantly, I went to BristolCon that the weekend. This is a small (ish) and friendly (very) convention held in the port town of Bristol in the West Country of the UK. There are two rooms set aside, in the hotel, for panels where authors, artists, editors and other such illuminati of the publishing world wax lyrical on topics that range widely and wildly across the science fiction and fantasy spectrum.

BristolCon (logo)One of the most important features of the convention is the friendly (mentioned above) atmosphere where people can mingle, meet and chat about many, many subjects. Sometimes even in the same language! This year not only were some guests from Germany and the Netherlands, but there were authors such as Sarah Pinborough, Ken Macleod, and Steven Poore. I am sure there are others who’ve written about their time at the Con (because it was excellent) and there are many photographs out there of folks in various poses and facial expressions (don’t go looking mine up…there is not a nice photograph of me and I don’t want to be responsible for nightmares). What I am going to try and look at today are the two of the panels I attended. I’ll probably not do them justice, but I am going to try.

SF&F On the Margins

Panellists: Sammy Smith, Joanne Hall, Cheryl Morgan, Adrian Faulkner, and Jason Whittle.

This panel was advertised as ‘The pros and cons of small press, indie and self-publishing … what benefits, if any, does the increased ease of access … hold for readers’ and ‘What exciting projects or changes have come about?’

It seemed right up my alleyway as I am involved in the SPFBO and indie publishing. I’d hoped to learn more about how things were going now and in the future for the small press and indie scene. I’d really hoped someone would mention the SPFBO – one of the more exciting projects to come out of the business of indie publishing.

The panel was made up of small press owners and editors, authors (Grimbold and Kristell Ink) and Adrian Faulkner (Fantasy-Faction contributor and agented writer – looking forward to his book). There was fair amount of realism about the traditional, big publishing houses and the meat grinder that it can be. It is often said of scientists, ‘Publish or Die!’ Traditional publishing seems to take the view, said the panel, that an author has ‘Two books to make it, or Die!’ and there were stories of that exact thing occurring.

Small press, said the small presses, had the freedom to innovate, to republish authors who’d written good books but been let go by the big presses, to take chances and support authors with marketing. Their fear, it seems, is similar to the big publishing houses, the quote I recorded (wrote down) from one of the panellists, ‘Amazon is at war with small press.’ This war consisted of making it hard to publish with them, difficult contracts, and a lack of access to other aspects of the Amazon machine.

Interestingly, there was a discussion about the rise of the novella, particularly the recent initiative (mirrored in a later discussion that Mark Lawrence had with a few fine folks in the bar) and the role of small press in the making translations available to the buying readership.

Sadly, there was little mention of indie authors and their role, which was most likely due to the make-up of the panel, it being small press heavy, or of the SPFBO in creating so much interest in, well, self-published fantasy. No matter though, the discussion had was interesting and enlightening.

Murderous Women

Panellists: Amanda Kear, Anna Smith-Spark, Jonathan L. Howard, David Gullen, and Dolly Garland.

The second panel attended focused upon the view that ‘grimdark’ fantasy is perceived as male dominated, but that other genres, such as crime are dominated by female writers. Why is this so?

The discussion here ranged far and wide and was interesting. There were several central themes expressed by the panel, most revolving around the idea that the posited perception was awry. Think about crime novels – the detailed deaths, the exacting post-mortems and sense of mortality that runs throughout – how different are these from grimdark fantasy. And I use that term in the knowledge that during a Grim-Gathering, the authors present (Lawrence, Abercrombie, Cole and Brett) disavowed that genre pigeonholing. Since then, the term has become much more widespread.

Some discussion focused around the eroticism of violence, a troubling term (for me). There is no denying that some people revel in violence, find an allure in it, and I’ve been known to watch a kung-fu movie or a thousand. But I watch with the knowledge, the empathy, that if such were real, there would be pain and suffering. There would be wives, husbands, children, loved ones who would suffer greatly from the killing and violence. You just have to watch the news to see that. However, we read to escape the world and ‘action’ makes a book fun, exciting, thrilling, but not (to me) erotic in any way. It takes all sorts, I suppose.

Be A Bard Session by Dolly GarlandAn excellent point of discussion was the nature of crime versus grimdark fiction. With crime, there is despite the death and suffering, at the end a sense of justice and restitution. Not so in grimdark, it appears, every time. Perhaps also, the panellists suggested, grimdark was just so new that it was impossible to draw conclusions.

The rest of the time, apart from a wonderful workshop on combat (during which it is good to see that I can still kick to shoulder height…long story) run by Deve Agarwal and Dolly Garland, that gave many of us a lot to think about, was spent talking, drinking (lemonade only…honest) and generally having fun. I did manage to squeeze in a game of Be A Bard, an upcoming card game that exercises your story-telling and tactical brain.

If you get a chance to go, go and enjoy. I hope to see you there next year!


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