So, this one will be slightly different, as normally we come at things from the angle of a shared brain. Not this time.
The first thing we’d like to say to Edge-Lit, Quad Derby and their lovely ‘red shirts’ is thank you. As a disabled person, I (Loz) am essentially always very anxious about new places and people. Through email conversations (shout out to Alex Davis) and interactions on the day, they made the experience much more comfortable and easy (of course, everything was also made easier by having Michelle there too).
On arrival, we got registered quickly and easily writing our own name tags. We managed to sign up for all the workshops we wanted and grab a coffee (well, Loz did) in the lovely restaurant. Though we were bemused by those starting on the beer at half nine in the morning, we were far too occupied with our goodie bags. We got a couple of free books, lots of great samplers (we so want our book to end up as one of these!), a tote bag and a branded tea and coffee, complete with shortbread. The swell of the TBR has begun.
The event officially started at 10am and we started off with panel: Think Small: What Are The Benefits of Working With Small and Independent Presses?
The benefits seemed pretty solid to us. Passion and commitment to their smaller stable of writers. This was a great panel, to listen to the runners of smaller presses and those published by them giving a fair and honest account of being/working with smaller presses. Yes, some of them can be incredibly dedicated, but many of them have to have external full time jobs in order to afford to run their presses. We fell particularly in love with Adele Wearing of ‘Fox Spirit Books’, but were very much aware of the rough and the smooth. It gave us a lot to think about afterwards.
After that, we headed to our first workshop of the day – Fear and Writing – Overcoming Psychological Barriers to Writing – run by the wonderful Emma Newman.
For anyone that was there Loz was the weirdo that cried. It was incredibly useful as it actually made us realise something. In a lot of situations, it really is about giving yourself permission to write. To admit to fear (of the good and bad), to bargain with it to get shit done and… if you really have to, to look fear in the face and tell it to fuck off. Also (this is why Loz cried) to give yourself permission to heal if your block is due to a catastrophic event.
In this room for the very first time I (Loz) was finally able to admit, that a catastrophic event had made me feel as if I didn’t have the right to enjoy writing after so much pain. It was somehow like popping a cork, and Emma reacted so amazingly to my weepy madness. Not that you’ll read this, but thank you to Emma Newman, so much and to those around me, who I never felt judged by.
Midday, and it was time for How To Write Synopses with Gav Thorpe. This was very much an instant gratification workshop. As soon as Gav started talking properly about synopsis writing and the power of the hook, we realised what we might have been doing wrong. Do be emotive at the beginning of your synopsis, make people want to keep reading. Don’t be factual, and only go into detail about plot if you have the space and time to go into detail about plot.
After synopses, we remembered that eating is an important thing, thus it was time for lunch. With half an hour to spare before our next workshop, we took the time to browse the various dealers tables. It was an interesting, busy (and heavy) half hour, exploring lots of different small dealers and presses. We would have loved to have more time to spend on this.
Swiftly moving on, 2pm meant our final workshop – Writing Short Stories with Andrew Hook.
We loved this. We were given what seemed like a really simple task, write down a character, a setting (scene) and a plot point (conflict) on three separate pieces of paper, then boom! Write. But there were lots of us, so things got much more complex. Andrew ‘stole’ our pieces of paper and shuffled them up. You then got three pieces of paper, not your own, so you got three completely mixed up aspects and something you may not have ever envisioned yourself.
You then had twenty minutes to write, and then – one of the scariest things about writing – read it aloud. No editing, no messing about, just a stream of consciousness. And it was illuminating, scary and brilliant fun!
With the end of workshops, we settled into seats in the ‘Sir John Hurt Cinema’ for a run of panels, starting with Epic! Why is High Fantasy Still Riding A Wave of Popularity?. Panellists consisted of RJ Barker, Lucy Hounsom, Stan Nicholls and Anna Stephens, chaired by Gav Thorpe.
I (Loz) think this one was really eye opening, because everyone had a different answer. The fact is epic fantasy is not what it once was. It is more. It is no longer as defined by its Belgariad-esque cliches (and yes we do both adore the Belgariad). It has diversified, begun to splinter into sub genres such as GrimDark, and it is trying hard to change and embrace new gender roles. Sometimes writers don’t even know they’re writing epic fantasy, until the work is finished. As the wondrous RJ Barker stated. “I thought I was writing a crime novel, but I liked things with massive antlers.”
Immediately after this was the panel we had been most interested in (as Fantasy is our predominant writing genre) – New Voices: How Hard Is It To Break Into Fantasy Fiction? Chaired by Lucy Hounsom, with panellists Zen Cho, Emma Newman, Peter Newman and Natasha Pulley.
This one was bloody good fun. There were many different attitudes and routes into being published, from going through MA agent panels, where agent’s shiftily hunted dragons, to the slog of DIY agent finding. It was honest, it was funny and it
gave a good clue to things that we might need to change for our submission package – in particular out writing bio – to let the people who need to see it, that we are in fact, gold dust. Also Loz got to fangirl at Natasha Pulley, who responded adorably. If you haven’t read ‘The Watchmaker of Filigree Street’ do it now! Seriously, now. It’s the internet, we’ll wait. And to embarrass Emma Newman, by calling her amazing in a public forum. It was informative, eye opening and yet somehow also felt welcoming, like mates chatting about something they all cared about. How hard is it? Not easy but evidently not as hard as some would have you believe. Phew.
To round off the panels it was It’s All Fiction: Can We Picture a World Without Genre? And Will It Ever Exist? with Joanne Harris, Alison Moore, Samantha Shannon, Adrian Tchaikovsky, John Gwynne and Alex Davis chairing.
An interesting and complex question that may not have a definite answer. Yes, people who look down their noses at genre fiction are annoying (and other words that spring to mind), so are those that sneer at people who say “I don’t touch fantasy”, but generally we all have our go-to-reads. Our favourite genre we like to browse and find what we’re looking for.
Now, imagine a world where there were no categories in a bookshop and you had to look through via Author name to find something. It works for charity shops but would it work in a dedicated bookshop, with hundreds or thousands of books? Maybe. Maybe not. There’s the possibility for the reader with little time that they would be unable to find something in their 10-15 minute browse, whereas as John Gwynne pointed out, you head to the Fantasy section and it’s smaller, welcoming as you know what you’re going to find within those shelves.
An idea that came up, which was an intriguing prospect was putting extra copies of books into other sections. So a popular fantasy book can be found in the fantasy section for ‘regular’ fans but also in general fiction for browsers who might like the look of it.
Could it ever exist? Possibly. Probably not though.
Time must have worked at a different speed at Edge-Lit, because before we knew it 6pm rolled up and we were treated to the brilliant fun that was Emma and Peter Newman presenting the ‘Edge-Lit Raffle’, riddled with many RPG references, which Michelle in particular not a geeky kick out of – once Peter remembered to shout out colours as well as numbers.
And we WON!!!
In closing, bring on Sledge-Lit in November, tickets are go! Hope to see some of you there.