BLOG Alt.Fiction 2010

The weekend just gone saw a fine SF gathering in Derby. Blogger Alasdair Stuart was there...

So, I went to Alt.Fiction 2010 last Saturday. It's a single day event held in Derby's Quad centre and what it lacked in length it more than made up for in sheer volume and quality. As well as the traditional launches and readings, there were two streams of panel programming, taking in the sort of question designed to appeal to everyone from comic writers to full-on convention rookies. It was a great day and what I’m going to do here is discuss the things I learnt and give you some links to the people I learnt them from. Think of it as a con report with DVD extras.

For me, the day opened with Tony Ballantyne discussing how well modern SF holds up the classics, with Paul Cornell and Colin Harvey . This is normally one of the areas where I’d expect the familiar sacred cows to be honoured but the panel was a refreshing, often very funny, discussion about how badly some of the classics age as well as how great some contemporary novels have been. It was particularly nice to hear the Arthur C Clarke Award - which has become something of a whipping boy - if not defended then certainly placed in context. Over all, the answer to the panel’s central question was a refreshing "it's better than it's ever been", with the whole panel singing the praises of the likes of Alastair Reynolds , discussing how Neuromancer still holds up well despite being a novel that features no cell phones and is about the theft of a "huge" eight megabyte file, and even taking in the oddest scene in Greg Bear's Eon. It was great fun, and the hour flew by.

Next up was my own moment in the sun as I, along with fellow SFX blogger Lee Harris and Un:Bound blogger Vincent Holland-Keen joined Adele of Un:Bound to talk about how writers can use blogging and the internet to further their career. Adele did heroic work on the day, recording a full day’s worth of panels for release as podcasts over the next few weeks and she was an equally impressive host. The discussion took in everything from the way e-readers will change the way we interact with books to the problem of balancing time online with time writing, the conflict between a writer’s brand and a writer’s identity and the Death Star as a force for good. Honestly. Other podcasts on the day included An Audience With Ramsey Campbell and a discussion about tie-in fiction – they’ll be up shortly and are definitely worth listening to. Oh, and we mean it about the Death Star.

Next up was a discussion about Writing For BBC Books which featured Guy Adams , Sarah Pinborough , Mark Morris , David Llewellyn , Justin Richards and Steve Tribe . It was a very funny and remarkably honest hour about what it’s like to write for the BBC (and for the Doctor Who universe in particular). What emerged was, somewhat inevitably, that there are only nine slots a year and far, far more authors than that looking to fill those slots – meaning competition, especially for newcomers, is fierce. If you do get picked and your story is approved by Cardiff, however, the sense of achievement and pride in your work is palpable with each author clearly taking immense pride in their work and the sheer thrill of writing for the biggest sandbox in English science fiction.

Final stop for me on the day was a panel about horror fiction featuring some of the best contemporary authors in the field. Horror’s a difficult genre to talk about because by definition it’s intensely personal and as a result difficult to face down. The panel did an admirable job, though, with the discussion taking in what frightens them, how having children has changed panel members’ fears and approach to horror and how, fundamentally, horror should always be about the person not the horrific situation they’re in. This was a loose, funny panel that dealt with some heavy issues face on and was a real highlight of the day – the point about character in particular will help me refocus my own horror fiction in a very positive way. Check out the sites of Conrad Williams , Tim Lebbon , Stephen Jones , Sarah Pinborough and Gary McMahon .

That was my Alt.Fiction in terms of panels but I spent a lot of time talking to authors, looking through the dealers room and in the coffee shop, which became the unofficial hub of the convention. It was a fascinating day, simultaneously tightly packed and hugely informal and I came away with a new perspective on my fiction, some new friends and a pretty good Secret Volcano HQ joke. Which, let’s face it, is a win however you cut it. Perfect for newcomers and with plenty going on for veterans, Alt.Fiction (also on Twitter ) is a small convention that punches far above it’s weight and looks to be only getting better. Give it a look next year, you won’t regret it.

This is a personal article by Alasdair Stuart, one of our site contributors. Were you there? Your comments and recollections are always welcome.