Edge Lit 6

Conventions are one of my favourite things about science fiction and fantasy fandom. The chance to hear and talk about sf+f with like minded people is great. And with Derby within day trip distance, one of my regular ones is Edge Lit.

Epic panellists dwarfed by epic title

The Epic Panel

I didn’t go to many panels this Edge Lit. I enjoy the panels as conversation starters, but I get easily distracted and end up staying in the bar.

The one I went to was on epic fantasy.

The panel’s starting question was about why epic fantasy is so popular at the moment. But there’s a reason why I say “starting” question. The titles of panels are seldom their whole focus. Instead, they provide a theme and a starting point for the panelists to work from. What’s interesting is what they do with it.

This particular panel featured RJ Barker, Lucy Hounsom, Stan Nicholls, Anna Stephens, and Gav Thorpe in the chair. They talked about how epic fantasy lets them write the stories they want to tell, about how various media are making it more popular, about the bad cliches that can be a problem, and all sorts of other things around what epic fantasy is. It was a wide-ranging and fascinating discussion that ended with some good recommendations for books.

This is the joy of panels. It’s hearing smart, lively people talk about interesting stuff. The panel titles might get a bit repetitive, but it’s the panelists that bring them alive.

The Event Running Workshop

Alex Davis, who runs Edge Lit, ran a workshop on running events. It’s certainly something he’s got experience on, making it a valuable addition to the convention. I’ve been toying with the idea of running some sf+f evenings in Leeds, so I went along to learn about the practicalities.

I know Alex puts a lot of effort into these events. Hearing him talk about it only made me more aware of that. So kudos to him for keeping the convention going. Whether I act on what I learned remains to be seen…

All the Books

I have too many books on my to-read pile already. Every convention I go to, I plan not to add any more. Every convention, that plan fails.

My main purchase this time was Laura Mauro’s Naming the Bones. I heard her read from this at the book launch and it caught my attention. A horror story that starts with a terrorist attack and ends up in the tunnels under London is something new for me, but with familiar elements I’m fascinated by. I’m looking forward to reading it, though probably not when I want to be able to sleep.

And then there was the raffle. I bought five tickets. Three of mine got drawn from the massive bowl. Slightly embarrassed, I asked them to draw again and let someone else have my prize the third time. Because like I said, I have too many books. But hey, I won!

In summary, Edge Lit 6 was everything I expected, in a good way. Books, panels, conversations, more books. Plenty of inspiration for what to read and write.

Needless to say, I’ll be back in the winter for Sledge Lit.

Crime and Fantasy

Edge-Lit_LOGOIn fiction, fantasy opens up a world of endless possibilities, while crime narratives constrain story into a specific structure.

That was the main insight I gained from the crime and fantasy panel at Edge-Lit this year. As someone who doesn’t generally write crime, I hadn’t thought to compare the two genres before. This point particularly grabbed my attention. Like any generality, I’m sure there are ways in which it’s untrue, but there’s also a lot of truth to it. And it shows how different genres, when brought together, can create interesting contrasts as well as bringing different strengths to the mix.

Maybe there’ll be more crime in my fantasy in future. I certainly like to write with constraints.

High Fantasy, High Art – an Edge-Lit Panel

Judging the book by its author, I expect to be very entertained by this.
Judging the book by its author, I expect great things.

What happens when fantasy fiction and literary fiction meet?

I recently went to Edge-Lit, an annual fantasy, science fiction and horror convention in Derby. It was an excellent event, with interesting panels including….

High Fantasy, High Art: Is Fantasy Fiction Growing More Literary?

Even after attending just a few sf+f conventions, I’ve realised that the subjects of panels get repetitive. Certain issues remain relevant, people want to talk about them, and that’s fine. It means that for a regular con attendee, what makes a good panel isn’t the subject so much as the panelists.

This panel had great panelists. Marc Turner was the perfect chair, asking interesting and relevant questions and getting everyone involved, rather than using his position to keep voicing his own views. The other panelists – Cherry Potts, Edward Cox, Peter Newman and Jen Williams – were all charming and insightful. Newman was particularly excellent, meaning that his book The Vagrant went straight onto my to-read list. Everyone was entertaining and worth listening to – not always the case when writers talk.

So what were my take aways from this?

Attitudes Towards Genre

The panelists generally approached literary fiction from the same angle I do – discussing its flaws while recognising that everything is somebody’s cup of tea. As Peter Newman said, we’re all cheerleading from our own corner, supporting the literature that struck a chord with us early in life. I think that’s very valuable in understanding our own attitudes to fiction, and our limitations. Those early experiences can create attachments that close our minds to alternatives. That’s not always bad, as we find things we love, but it’s worth being aware of.

There was much discussion of the tendency for literary fiction, at its most extreme, to leave out entertainment in favour of literary style. Jen Williams said that, as  a former bookseller, she found that “the interesting stuff goes upstairs, in genre”.

It’s a reminder that geeky interests are pushed out to the periphery physically as well as in the discussion of literature. Games stores end up outside the centre of town, fantasy fiction on the top floor of Waterstones. And again, being aware of it can stop us letting that assumption colour our view of the world.

Perhaps the telling insight came from Cherry Potts. As she pointed out, the phrase “literary fiction” assumes that everything else isn’t literary, implicitly putting down everything from fantasy to romance.

Addressing the Big Issues

Marc Turner raised the question of whether fantasy is a good medium for exploring social and political issues. Like me, and I’m sure anyone reading this blog, the panelists agreed that it is, giving plenty of examples to show that it was as good for this as any genre.

Then came the point I really liked, again from Peter Newman. He argued that using fantasy is often better than talking about issues in the real world. It can be hard to hear someone’s viewpoint if they’re disagreeing with you on real world things you care about. By placing the ideas into a fantasy world, we can make it easier for people to take them in. Fantasy becomes a way of opening minds.

How’s that for a defence of the genre?

Write What You Know?

Finally a comment from Edward Cox, which I thought was useful even outside of this topic. He suggested that the old concept of “write what you know” might now be obsolete. The internet makes research so much easier that anyone can get to know about anything.

“Write what you know” is certainly an awkward concept, and one that can be more restrictive than useful if applied badly. I’m still mulling it over, but I think I might agree with Cox on this.

Far more was discussed in the panel than what I’ve covered above. If you ever have a chance to see any of these panelists talk then I heartily recommend it. And if you can make it Derby, there’ll be another Edge-Lit event just before Christmas. It’ll be well worth your time.