The Geekend

Getting over-excited - the essence of the geekend.
Getting over-excited – the essence of the geekend.

I picked up a new word at Fantasy Con, and it’s a word I now know I always needed. That word is geekend.

Most of my best weekends are geekends. I might be at a fantasy convention, a live roleplay game, a board gaming meet up, or just hanging out with friends playing drinking beer and talking about comics. There’s a shared atmosphere to all these occasions – a sense of enthusiasm, relaxation and geeky camaraderie. I might drift between my different nerdy hobbies, but the core pleasure remains, and that pleasure is the geekend.

Credit for this new piece of vocabulary goes to David Tallerman. I don’t know whether he can be credited with its invention – that’s the problem with writers, they’re always making stuff up. But learning the word over drinks in a convention bar, from a friend I met over drinks in a convention bar, that’s perfect.

Do you turn your weekends into geekends? Have you just got back from one? Share your particular enthusiasms below – what do you love enough to spend a whole weekend nerding out over it?

Stealing from the Past: Fantasy in History – a Fantasy Con 2015 Panel

The fantasy genre is hugely influenced by history. Whether it’s the reinvented Medieval Europe of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the scrambled Victorian era of steampunk, or the tendency of urban fantasy vampires to have lived through history’s greatest moments, real history seeps into every pore of our imaginary worlds. One of the panels at this year’s Fantasy Con explored historical fantasy, where real history comes to the forefront of the fantasy, and as a writer in both genres I took copious notes. Here are some of the highlights….

The Panellists

Susan Bartholomew – moderator

Jacey Bedford

Susan Boulton

Anne Lyle

Juliet E McKenna

Toby Venables

The Introductory Bit

The first question for the panel was about what period they write in and whether, if they had a time machine, they’d go back to that era. The general consensus was that they wouldn’t, due to the ways in which most periods of the past are uglier and more dangerous than our own. Toby Venables said that he would if he could have a year to train first – a pragmatic adventurousness that won me around, as did the fact that he writes 12th century stuff – after the panel, his Hunter of Sherwood went onto my to-read list.

In the general conversation that came out of this, Juliet McKenna impressed me, as she always does, with insight and ability to pin down important ideas. In talking about making historical details convincing, she pointed out that if you get four historical academics together you’ll get seven different opinions on the period under discussion. As long as you use plausible versions of history (or write in a fictional world, as she does), people can’t legitimately tell you you’ve got it wrong – though they’ll still try. That’s the pitfall of writing about history.

Changing Perspectives

One of Susan’s most interesting questions for the panel was whether they’d had to change characters’ points of view to fit the period they were writing about. Juliet pointed out that popular perspectives on history are often Victorian inventions rather than the truth, and so have an old-fashioned white male bias. We hear about the exceptional people, not the ordinary ones, but you have to understand the rules of the ordinary to write about people living outside them.

Anne Lyle talked about softening a character’s prejudices, so that they would reflect the historical era but be palatable to readers. For me, this seems like a key thing. Historical fiction is an encounter between modern readers and the imagined past – it’s already a compromise, that’s not always a bad thing.

Another important point Juliet raised was that we have to understand the biases affecting historical analysis of the periods we’re examining. For example, academic books from the 1950s about Athenian culture had to be careful in how they discussed homosexuality, as it was still illegal in the UK. The AIDS epidemic forced another shift in understanding in the 1980s, as officialdom recognised the importance of situational homosexuality in prisons and the army. The context of later historians affects what we see as true.

Then everyone was mean about Richard I, winning my approval. Richard I = most over-rated jerk in English history. Fact.

Emotional Truths

Speaking of compromises in depicting the past, the panellists talked about the real historical details they hadn’t included in their fiction because readers would find them unbelievable or incomprehensible. One obvious area is language. Modern people can’t understand 12th century English. Deadwood had to deviate from the way real frontier thugs talked in order to give the language the same emotional impact, as the language considered outrageous at the time now sounds mild.

The final discussion led to a couple of my favourite quotes of the panel:

Toby Venables, discussing deviating from standard historical conceptions – “For a Viking crew, there was no rulebook that said ‘this is how to be a Viking’.”

And in response more wisdom from Juliet McKenna – “One of the biggest mistakes you can make is making the past too homogenous.”

Another Great Panel

This was a fascinating panel to listen to, and I’m sorry I didn’t take enough notes to properly credit the wisdom of all the panellists. Juliet McKenna has been a highlight of every panel I’ve ever seen her on, and this was no exception, but everyone had interesting things to say.

The Changing Face of Book Marketing at #FantasyCon2015

BFS_Logo_red_SMALLOf all the panels I attended at Fantasy Con, the one that most sticks in the memory was ‘Turn Up the Volumes: Marketing and Selling Books’. Not because of how much I learned from it, but because of how different the tone was to last year’s equivalent.

Same Panel, Different Industry


Graeme Reynolds is a small press publisher, with an indie outlook and approach. Last year, he sat on a similar panel in a position of isolation. The conversation was oriented toward big publishers and big book shops, the mainstays of traditional publishing. A lone voice toward the self-publishing end of the spectrum, Graeme struggled to be heard, looking increasingly uncomfortable as the assumption behind the panel became clear – this was about how people published by big businesses could get themselves noticed.

This year was completely different. Graeme was in the mainstream of the conversation, alongside other small press and indie writers. Big publishing was represented on the panel, but it didn’t dominate. The result was advice that anybody could use, and a far more relaxed Graeme Reynolds. He was actually smiling when he came out of the panel.

The Difference Twelve Months Makes

Why am I talking about this?

Because I think it’s very telling. Publishing is changing at a huge speed. Self-publishers and indie publishers are finding more success due to the internet and particularly Amazon. Big publishers are ditching their marketing budgets for all but the biggest names. To be relevant, a panel on marketing books has to be providing advice you can follow even if you’ll never get on the shelves of Waterstones.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into a single panel, but it seems to me that attitudes are shifting. Fantasy Con is quite oriented toward traditional publishing, but this year its marketing panel was built around where the industry is going, not where it used to be. Everyone is adjusting to a new reality that makes big publishers less central, but also makes the hardline indie voices, who believe the big publishers are dead weight giants, look less realistic and more fanatical.

A more diverse, do-it-yourself industry is emerging, and it’s one where hard working, determined small publishers like Graeme can comfortably be heard.

Where’s Our Advice?

So having sat through such a practical panel, what advice can I offer you? What nuggets of wisdom did the panel offer?

Honestly, very little I hadn’t heard before. Be positive; interact with people on social media instead of spamming them with sales; do what you’re comfortable worth; identify and focus on your ideal readers.

Half the reason old and new publishing have found this middle ground is that there’s a growing consensus on how to sell books in the early 21st century. If you want to learn about it then don’t listen to me, go direct to experts like Joanna Penn, the Sell More Books Show, or Graeme Reynolds himself.

Books, Booze and Brandon Sanderson – My #FantasyCon2015 Highlights

My Fantasy Con 2015 book haul
My Fantasy Con 2015 book haul

I love a good geeky get together. Talking about the stuff I love, meeting fellow fans and writers, learning about books I’ve never heard of. Fantasy Con, the British Fantasy Society’s annual convention, is great for this.

I’ll write up some meaningful panel notes another week, but here are some of my personal highlights from the con:

The fairy tales panel. The panellists struck up a relaxed, interesting conversation, and it was great to see Charlotte Bond showing her smarts on her first panel appearance.

The bizarre Friday night karaoke. The room was too well lit, the bar wasn’t serving booze, and I had no intention of singing. But the atmosphere was so relaxed, it made a great background to hanging out and chatting.

Sitting in the bar with Ian Sales and Hal Duncan, listening to them enthuse about linguistics and biblical history. Listening to knowledgeable, enthusiastic people discuss favourite subjects is always a joy.

The launch party for V. H. Leslie’s Skein and Bone. There was sangria, and I found someone to talk with about the awesomeness of Dark Matter. Also the book is lovely – my only paper purchase of the weekend.

David Tallerman’s reading. It wasn’t well attended, but it was a great short story.

Thanking Brandon Sanderson for Writing Excuses, and getting a fist bump when I told him I make a living off what I learned from his podcast.

My first time talking on a convention panel. It was great to meet the other panellists, and Alex Davis did a great job of keeping the conversation go. Despite being tense and over-caffeinated, I managed not to make a complete tit of myself.

All in all, a fun time was had. Huge thanks to the con chairman Lee Harris, all the volunteers, and Charlotte and David for company on the journey and around the con. Next up, Sledge-Lit.