Sunday, 26 June 2011

AltFiction 2011

The weekend just gone was AltFiction in Derby. For the first time it was held over the full weekend, rather than the one day event I attended last year. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend one of the days - and it took me until the very last minute to decide to go, besides - but I really wanted to get there for at least one day because I had such a good time last year.

So, convoluted explanation complete *grins*

I'm really happy to report that AltFiction was tremendous. It is very quickly becoming one of the must-attend cons of the year. Unlike all of the others, it is both incredibly focused on books, reading and writing and also aims to appeal to ALL fans of speculative fiction. This was evident from panels that ranged from science fiction to fantasy to horror to script writing to YA - a lovely, diverse mixture which ensured there was always something for someone to see.

I did notice that one of the people involved with the organisation of Eastercon this year posted the tweet: "Good day, if a bit unfocussed and 101 in spots." I would have to say that the more I think about Eastercon this year, the more negative I become - it was dark and depressing, and, if not for the people I met, I would probably have never wanted to go to another convention. AltFiction, for me, is like the anti-Eastercon.

I say this because AltFiction is a) bright and airy, in a modern building with great facilities in a city centre; b) accessible to all speculative fans, no matter what flavour of genre they enjoy; c) great for first-time con-goers - that "101 aspect", for me, is what makes AltFiction so great. Anyone can go and feel welcome. In addition to this, it is still a beautifully compact little con where you can talk to anyone and manage to get to most of the people you intend to see (although, as is now usual, I found myself heading home thinking of all the people I really wanted to talk to and only got a snatched few minutes with - yep, @ghostfinder and @stephendeas, that definitely means you!)

I attended the following panels (I would also say that I attended 50% more panels in one day than I attended in all three days at Eastercon, testimony to how attractive the panel titles were - few of the Eastercon panel titles made me excited):

1) Is there anywhere new for science fiction to go?
2) Has fantasy moved past Tolkien?
3) Guest of Honour: Alastair Reynolds
4) The World of Publishing
5) The AltFiction raffle

For the first two panels, I plan to do separate blog posts for each, since I wrote copious notes and found myself fascinated by all the discussion within them.

Al Reynolds spent some time chatting about the influences on his writing career, and what led him to choose science fiction. He has definitely piqued my interest about Blue Remembered Earth, which sounds EPIC and has an African flavour. He spoke about whether science fiction should be dystopian or utopian. And, interestingly, he let slip that he wanted Pushing Ice to be called Chasing Janus. I found him to be intelligent, spiky at times (when someone asked about the relevance of cyberpunk these days) and good-humoured the majority of the time. Woefully I haven't yet read any of his work, but he certainly made me more inclined to over the course of an hour and I REALLY want to start with Blue Remembered Earth.

I would say that The World of Publishing panel was possibly the most 101 of them all (although for any first-time con-goer, it would have been utterly fascinating to hear these things for the first time). The most interesting part that I took away is that publishers are aiming to attract a book buyer's attention in Waterstones within the first seven seconds. The first second or so accounts for whether a customer is attracted by the cover, the remaining amount is for the copy blurb on the back. If either of these fail, the casual customer will NOT pick up that book and there is a lost sale. It is truly frightening that publishers work to those time scales - and this accounts partly for why cover art is so terribly important.

For the raffle, I will only sulk that I didn't win any of the awesome prizes and state that Sarah Pinborough and Guy Adams were a brilliant double act as the presenters!

Like I say, my con experience only went over one day so I can't comment on the second day - but, unless the second day was TERRIBLE, I would say that virtually everyone going would say that AltFiction is one of the, if not the, premier conventions on the circuit now.

Just a few other observations:

- the calibre of the attendees, from guests of honour to panellists to people I chatted to in the bar, was very high.
- AltFiction is one of the best networking opportunities for those wishing to get into the writing industries - all the major genre publishers seemed to be represented to some extent or another, and there were agents and editors wandering around and willing to chat in exchange for a pint
- It is *awesome* to pop an author's cherry *ahem*. Sarah Cawkwell (the ONLY female novellist for Black Library right now - not including shorts) was thrilled that I knew who she was and that I can't wait to read The Gildar Rift. Thrilled but maybe a *little* freaked out.
- As usual, was tremendous to meet new people I'd only spoken to via Twitter before now: @DarrenGoldsmith @pyroriffic @damiengwalter @JonCG_novelist @E_M_Edwards
- getting the #duckcon gang back together for a few brief hours was great

And thanks must go to @cbosteve @figures and @markchitty for once again putting up with me and my soapbox - you're the best con companions! Mwah!

Okay, in conclusion: go to AltFiction next year. It fucking rocks.


  1. I missed my chance to catch up with you, Amanda. I saw you at the next table along in the bar, planned to head over and chat at some point, and the next thing I knew you'd disappeared upstairs to the Raffle. Couldn't find you anywhere afterwards and now I know why. Will you be at FCon?

  2. You can pop my cherry any time.


  3. Yeah, my bad. Will do better next time.

  4. Still annoyed we didn't get to sit down and talk nonsense for five minutes. My fault entirely for running around like a blue-arsed fly, completely unable to decide which panels to attend.

    Next time, gadget! Next time!

  5. Aw, sounds epic! Glad you had a great time. Mark and I will totes be heading up that way next year.

  6. Darren Goldsmith27 June 2011 at 09:47

    There were cherries? I didn't see any cherries...

  7. Saw you deep in conversation further down the bar and thought "Must say 'Hi' when she's free." But it never happened. Hopefully next time.