The Starguard News
Saturday Sept 17th:
At Foyles, Charing Cross Road.
25 fantastic authors were divided throughout the day in various themed panels of 40-minutes duration. They discussed themselves, their books, and ideas, plus general anecdotes and lots of advice.
It was held on the 6th floor above the cafe which was spacious enough, though the chairs were packed closely together for a guy with long legs. While I was meeting a friend, Nick there, I was surprised he was talking to another friend of mine, randomly they had sat together - so there's the world of writing for you, it's a small world! A goody bag was provided on the chair containing a programme and copious amounts of free slimline samples of books, an indispensible SFX 'ultimate sci-fi quiz' book (watch out Lotna!), and other ads for books. It was a real bumper crop.
So after a brief wait and chat with seat-neighbours, the 1st panel consisted of moderator/author Mark Stay with authors Catriona Ward, Tom Toner, and Alister Reynolds. The theme was: 'Why so Early?' why are the authors there so early attending fests and talking to fans? Fan engagement, as sci-fi/fantasy genre seems to engage fans more readily than other 'sub-cultures'. It's one of the few times in the year authors get out and meet fans. At the opposite end, author Catriona Ward stated she writes anytime an idea arises such as when she met her boyfriend's parents for the first time and she spent a lot of it in the loo writing a story on a napkin! Tom Toner said he was a late riser, while Reynolds said he wrote mostly in summer evenings. In regards to deadlines and word counts, there was a feeling of a pressure of time. Ward wrote her first book without publisher in 6 years, while her second was expected in 18 months by the publisher. But their work ethic and accumulated knowledge on the publishing world made it a bit easier.
With social media engagement, what was their timing? Did they make time or just get online whenever? Was it better to just opt out? Reynolds structured his writing environment to avoid distractions. They were also asked about strange sci-fi books written or anything they wrote 'which the world was not ready for!' Strange question, which baffled the authors, though they mentioned works ahead of their time (where they talked about Gene Wolfe and Bruce Sterling).
On the second panel - 'More Than a Story', Stephen Baxter, Pat Cadigan, and Bradley Beaulieu discussed books which changed the world. They started off which books that changed their lives or influenced them, Robert Heinlein figuring hugely (with his diverse characters long before it was de rigueur). Cadigan noted William Gibson's Neuromancer which predicted so much of the cyber-world, but 'missed' the mobile phone/camera phone.
There was also a discourse on 'danger points' in books forcing a message or propagandising or preaching. There was a difference between a plot/idea which served the story rather than served yourself. Books should concentrate on character depth, flaws, goals and conflict.
We had a break and everyone bomb-burst for the cafe where Nick, Kate and I were caught in the long cafe queue. We got back slightly late for the next segment.
Round 3 - 'Awards, huh! What are they Good For?'
Wow - sparks and controversy! What were their role and impact? Woman had gained more wins and nominations. The Arthur C Clarke Awards had done more to promote the genre, though other awards seemed to have lapsed into specialised niches and sub-genres. Even the Hugo awards had partnered with NASA.
Then Scott Lynch sparked critical debates on what were the 'best books' compared to which books won within campaigns, judging politics and infighting. There ensued discussions on what award committees were like, the compromises and horse-trading, and the books that mostly won were most judges' second choices. To me that brought into question the value of awards and the subjectivity/objectivity of such committies. Lynch was really vocal on this, though he was checked on his comments about some awards being subservient to other media, criticising the Hugo awards showing clips from nominated films and not reading from nominated books, but Pat Cadigan (in the audience) stated it was for the MCs to have a bathroom break! Lynch demurred, but insisted some awards were losing out and that even big film studios seemed to snub such awards. Also, that other literary awards carried much bigger kudos and better financial rewards. Cadigan was happy that other awards, such as the Sterling Awards had joint-winners, which seems a sensible thing.
So what were the awards good for? Some influential and famous authors had never won. Lynch stated being on the short-list was enough for him to be recognised and could be a good as being the winner as you were a talking-point, especially if the choice was close.
Panel 4 - #amwriting. The online presence discussed with Gollancz editor Gillian Redfern, authors Rob Abercrombie, Gavin Smith, and Antonia Honeywell. What was their online activity like versus their actual writing? Antonia Honeywell said as a new author she felt it was her responsibility to promote herself and connect with people and fans. She would rather talk to people rather than hard sell her book. On the other hand, sites such as substantive blogs and even short-form Twitter were time-sinks taking away time from actual writing (er, like I'm doing now!). Rob Abercrombie said he started out being obssessed with twitter followers (as was I) but others weren't so bothered.
There was also the issue of the false positivity of some authors stating how good their lives were and how much they were writing. Honeywell believed using #amwriting was a call for help (not sure why) and stated social media was just a tool. She felt readers wanted to connect to authors, learn more about them and their background, their book ideas, and opinions. The panel also talked about the polarisation and echo chamber of social media, the attacks and disagreement.
There was comic relief from Gavin Smith who stated he had next to zero online presence and was made to be on the panel by his editor, Gillian.
Lastly they were asked if they put on a professional front or were personal. Abercrombie talked about his joke Twitter name as Lord Grim Dark which stuck and befitted the nature of his book content. Smith joked he should be Lord Space Opera. Abercrombie talked about another 'famous' author who now blocked him on Twitter for whatever reason. He says his online presence is now an adjudged performance.
So ended the panels. Time for lunch and Nick, Kate and I headed to a nearby Wetherspoons and a good chat. After, while they attended the afternoon panel sessions, I was booked in for the Writers' Workshops in the Phoenix Artist Club across the road. A kindly Big Issue man showed me the entrance as it was hidden around the corner in an alley.
Downstairs was an eclectic setting with photos of actors over the bar and strange objects on the walls like a Darth Vadar helmet over a crocodile head. What better place to inspire an author's imagination.
The first part of the afternoon was a sort of 'speed dating' with authors. 12 tables each with 4 attendees were joined by one author where we could ask them advice. The first at our table (#6) was Tom Toner. We had general introductions and what each of us were doing. Next was Catriona Ward. She gave us advice on writing a synopsis - just tell the story, strip everything out (adjectives and descriptions). With characters, to make them interesting you can use contrasting adjectives as with someone like Oscar Schindler - compassionate Nazi! You then get the conflict in the character.
James Barclay then had some great advice for those troublesome scenes you can't finish - bullet point them. I usually just left a large blank space, but even just sketching out/bullet pointing will help. Elizabeth Bear had advice on worldbuilding, to spread out the info and cut the exposition. On my question about prologues she stated sometimes they can start the main story off cold again.
After that exercise, we attendees were ushered into the adjoining room where were heard from Elizabeth Bear, Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, and Justina Robson. Questions from the audience included how important is the setting. Setting is important, but the character has to develop from the setting. While the background can be a character in itself, character comes first. Another factor is to edit/smooth out incongruous and inconsistent facts.
Lastly, was an ask-the-editor segment. They talked about how they got into the industry, and what they do in the editorial process. What grabs them? Gillian talked about 'vibrating' editors; they know when they read a good book, it excites them and they boot it up the line and can't contain their excitement. Sounds like an extraordinary process. Then their dislikes: gratuitous, shock value rape scenes, lovingly created extended sex scenes - especially on page one! Females looking in the mirror stating how hot they are, action scenes which then descend into discourses on anything else (the grab them then talk about it). Luckily my books don't contain these, but Gollancz had still turned down my book. Time for a rethink, methinks!
Book signings and Party time!
Throughout the day, Gillian Redfern did her best to implore us all to buy books. There were stacks and stacks on the tables and other Gollancz books along the stairs all the way down, plus in the Phoenix Artist club. If I didn't already have a ton of books on my shelves and on my wish list, I would have gone home with more. Gavin Smith's books looked good and I had a quick chat with him. So there was a bit of a wait while the authors signed books in both locations, Scott Lynch seemingly the most popular.
We were finally ushered back onto the 6th floor where wine and snacks were served. At the beginning, Gillian had Lynch, Abercrombie and Tom Lloyd talk about each other's books as they had been published at the same time 10 years ago. For the most part people were in groups, but for us loners we wandered around pretending to enjoy the wine! Then I struck up a conversation with Izzy (IKS Andrew), a Doctor of Agriculture and great fan of Scott Lynch's books. She had the great idea to sit in the authors' seats on the stage, so we brazenly did so (with a quick chat to Gillian who was passing by). We declared we'd be in the seats for real in 5 years!
Later I spoke to author Al Robertson and when I mentioned Olaf Stapledon, he was surprised as he had just spoken to another attendee who also admired his work. He later introduced us and I met Michael and then Jonathan. Now friends with Michael, Jonanthan, and Izzy. It was a good night mingling and at the end of the night at 8.30pm, I saw Ed Cox. I'd be seeing him and Al Robertson at the next BSFA meet.
And now after that, I realise how much I'll have to re-tool The Starguards. It needs to be ripped up and and rewritten. It's a juvenile, written when I was a juvenile and it hasn't grown up. It needs to, to match the more mature nature of the current 2nd book. So, for everyone waiting for the 2nd book, it'll be a while - not a George RR Martin while, but within 2 years!
Fri Sept 16th:
My 2nd radio interview. I felt good even though I fluffed a few lines (forgetting to name and expand on my 2nd book - The Starguards: Earth Legacy) but I liked my reading. I need to practice answering questions, but good thinking on my feet. Enjoy:
Looking forward to Gollancz Festival in September. Will be attending for author interviews and workshops. Need to work on world-building! http://gollanczfest.co.uk/
New Twitter ad: Shout My Book: https://twitter.com/ShoutOUTmyBook/status/764103106879774720
And Draft2Digital has a new service: https://books2read.com/u/mlK589. Find my book at your favourite store!
LFCC - Olympia, London - Sunday July 31st 2016 Day 3
I had somehow missed my pic with TNA Wrestler Gail Kim yesterday, but was able to get a pic with her today. But instead of my TNA T-shirt, I already had my tux on anticipating my costume for the day :-)
Later, I took a blurry pic of the 3 Doctors Paul Mcgann, Sylvester McCoy, and Colin Baker. Funny guys!
Lotna members Victoria and Cyrus were at their Doctor Who stalls.
I got into costume. My Bat Tux with mask, cape, gloves, belt and goggles for a kind of gentleman/steam punk Batman feel. Took pics with the Batmobile and Tumbler. There was a great Iron Man cosplayer as well. This guy had controls in his palms to control his facemask opening up and flaps on the costume and lights. Almost like the real thing.
There was a professional photo shoot for cosplayers. Took my turn wiht an inaugural Bat dab and action shots. Pics turned out really good. There was also a young woman in a well-made Steampunk costume. She made it all herself, though not based on any character. She bought a basic gun and built it up and painted it. Nice touches. Upon the black screen I performed the Bat dab, an action shot with cape flying, and full pose shot. I wish I had been able to show off the Batman cuff links.
Finally, a female Joker was the first one to come to me to want a pic. And she was worried about her make up, not wanting to look like Michael Jackson! Deadshot also wanted a pic with me!
By this time, I was getting a bit hot in the mask. As it's my first time at a large conference in costume, I was still getting use to it. So took a bit of a break photoing the cosplay stage. They're dancing to YMCA! Yes, they are...
One cosplayer was a sort of Jedi. He had a light saber and a gun... odd combo!
My first group shot was great. I saw Batman and wanted a pic then Joker, Robin, and Harley Quinn showed up and all of a sudden we were caught up in a few minutes of pictures as the crowds surrounded us... Great feeling, almost like being in paparazzi!
I had met fellow author Nick Sheridan at The London Book fair earlier in year. Then he shows up today for the Michael Emerson shoot. Strange or what!
So got my pic with cool actor Michael Emmerson. I made him laugh by saying 'I'm not the man in the suit, I'm the upgrade, the man in the Tux!'
I met female Daredevil and Electra having a coffee... Costume fact - her eyelashes kept catching on the mask! My mask was boring into my forehead. Woe be to us heroes! I liked the fact that many women dressed as their male counterparts...
A woman, Sarah-Lee, photo-ing a Batman rushed over to me and said how cool my costume was and wanted us 2 Batmen together by the Tumbler! Another good shot.
The Michelle Gomez was on the cosplay stage to hand out the £1000 award to best costume! I don't know the character's name (probably from a game), but he had a great costume ..and huge cheque!
And a last minute catch before the station - Vision and Scarlett Witch!!
A review of my first cosplay. I'm glad it was a cool day, dressed in a tux as I was. With the increased open areas it was good to get around, though the 1st floor was still a bit crowded. At first, I felt a bit subconscious wondering why people were looking at me and if my costume with added Batman elements passed muster. But from the smiles, comments, and people wanting pictures I was reassured I wasn't playing a fool for nothing :-)
Being in the costume with a mask cut peripheral vision so people I was walking with or taking pictures disappeared with a turn of the head. Next time I will pad the mask as bits of internal mouldings dug into my forehead exasperated by the goggles tightly overlaying the mask. Plus the already padded nose guard pressed onto my nose so I had to lift it every now and again to breathe better. And I had to de-mask to wipe the sweat and air out:-) I certainly have more appreciation for those who are in full costumes all day...
And now I know why heroes where capes: My shirt kept popping out at the back. The cumberbund and Batbelt not able to hold it in. I think I've lost weight perhaps, so that's a good thing!!
One of the best parts was getting pictures taken. It's one thing getting one taken, but the group shots were great, especially when multiple pictures were taken. It was like being in front of the paparazzi. I had been on the other side of this waiting to shoot cosplayers as others took their photos. They turned this way and that patiently for everyone to get their pic. To be in the middle of it was a good feeling.
Then there was the more professional shots against the black background. I liked the posed shots, introducing the Bat dab! I didn't enter the cosplay competition but maybe in the future.
And it was good having friends around who helped with pictures and kept company so thanks to Mark Veal, Anna-Lena Dube Fuller, Simon Geake, and Clayton Pearce. And it was a surreal experience walking around the 2nd floor YALC surrounded by a virtual sea of young Harry Potter characters in a Harry Potter quiz and raffle! Thanks for that Anna-Lena!
Next year, I may wear contacts as I had to wear my glasses on the outside of the mask and add more elaborate and upgraded Batman elements toward the gentleman, steampunk Batman. One person called me a cross between Batman and Alfred - The Bat-Butler! Who knows!
Thanks to everyone who read my 3 days of LFCC witterings. I hope if you haven't been to a comic con before you'll get to one to experience all the geekness and goodness of the world.
LFCC - Olympia, London - Saturday July 30th 2016 Day 2
Surprised again at the lack of a queue. Organisers have done well in opening other entrances. Last year we were queued around the houses for an hour before getting in. Much better this year!
Much more room on ground floor, but would say the 1st floor around the photo and autograph areas is a cauldron. I'm sure the BBC could map the isotherms in there! The queues for the guests are also a bit chaotic which in the heat is a sweat fest :-P Not sure how the guests survived, especially when no one is at their table and they looked a bit bored!
However, my day did not start well as I somehow missed my photo session with TNA Wrestler Gail Kim. I went up to her table and had a chat with her and her event assistant. They were understanding and the assistant said he was sure I could get the picture on Sunday. I had to queue for a while at an info station and was assured I could get into one of the Sunday sessions. So all was well.
I ran into a few friends from my LOTNA Sci-Fi group. A few of us visited a VR set with an app to turn mobile into VR game. Not bad. Not sure I got the hang of the app (being a 21st Century caveman and all) but it looked fun!
I passed The TARDIS console set against a green screen. This was there for the 3 Doctors on show: Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, and Paul Mcgann. I hoped to see them in free talk on Sunday!
So Saturday was my day for photoing the cozzie parade. Some great costumes abound. I grabbed a Mystique first - though I somehow managed to delete some of my early photos so was glad to track some of them down again (track not stalk!) :-) There was a George Reeve lookalike Superman with 'Punisheress' and Poison Ivy. Lots of Poison Ivys this year! Green Arrow and Rorshach were hanging out together.
Matt Murdoch and Jessica Jones turned up. Netflix characters did really well this year. A Cyberman, a warrior Gorilla from Planet of the Apes, Captain America and Doctor Strange, Cloud from Final Fantasy 7 (with his huge sword). Thor and another Captain America. Blade! Deadpool - lots of Deadpools this year as well. He almost rivalled all the Spider-Men. There was a cool Predator! (Ged to de choppa!), a fine Retro Supergirl, the Courier from Fallout: New Vegas, and Wolverine and Rogue!
Then an epic battle photo scene between light and dark sides opened up: It's great when different people and groups decide to get together for a shoot like this. Happened quite and bit and almost randomly with random Jedi, Lukes, Leias, Reys, and BB8s lined up against stormtroopers, Sith and Darth Vadar. Nick Fury joined the Dark Side... then reverted back to normal SHIELD operations.
Then there was the ubiquitous Batman and Nightwing with Harley Quinn and Electra. Bane, Gambit, Rogue, and Wolverine. A Batwoman, Agent Peggy Carter, Ghost Rider, and a solo Darth Vader makes his presence known. A brilliant Hawkgirl, X-23, a Winter Soldieress, The Winter Soldier (Bucky Barnes), Black Pantheress, and Ant girl.
Then 3 classic Red Shirts showed up and I managed to photo them before they met their demise!
The family that cosplays together, stays together (Father Batman, Mother Wonder Woman, daughters Wondergirl, Katana, and Robin)!
Wonder Woman, Six - from Battlestar Galactica, Tank Girl who could barely hold the weapon up, it was so heavy. She had borrowed it from another cosplayer, but it so suited her! The Lego came out to play! Lego Batman, Joker, Wonder Woman and Supergirl.
Judge Dredd and Hitgirl - what a lethal combo! Magneto. Another Wonder Woman - loads of them around too. Hellgirl, X-23, and Wolverine then another multiple with Wolverine, She-Hulk, Hellgirl, a ghost buster, Spidey, and X-23. Hawkeye, Iron Man, Luke Cage, Nick Fury, another Hawkeye, and 3 Spider-men. Another Hellboy - The dude was gutted Ron Perlman couldn't make it! The Suicide Squad - Capt Boomerang, Katana, Joker, Entrantress, Killer Croc and Harley Quinn. Supes and Green Lantern had chat before getting down to business. The Man of Steel dude had Christopher Reeves Superman look down! Great costumes. And it would be my turn tomorrow.
LFCC - Olympia, London - Friday July 29th 2016 Day 1
So Day 1 at LFCC and it's almost quiet. The layout has changed for the better to allow for more crowds on ground floor around the merchanise stalls. The talk and photo areas were on 1st floor with YALC on 2nd floor.
I had 40 free Starguards samples with me. I was initially told I could stand near entrance and hand them out, but a more senior organiser later came over and told me as I wasn't part of the official venue I wouldn't be allowed. But I had handed out 3/4 of them so was happy enough :-)
My first free talks attended was with the wrestlers from WWE and TNA. Colt Cabana was MC'ing and guests included Gail Kim, Hardcore Bob Holly, Hacksaw Jim Duggan (Hooooo!) and The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase. Some great stories from back in their day about botched endings, letting the juice flow (cutting themsleves with razors to bleed), and who they would like to wrestle/manage now...
I met up with a friend and we attend a YALC talk with Holly Smale, Nat Lurtsema, Jenny McLachlan and Katy Birchall on women writing books with comedy and perhaps putting in way too many period and wee jokes!
Later, I walked around more taking picture of Michael Keaton's Batmobile, The Tumbler (Christian Bale's Batmobile) and the Dumb and Dumber van behind it! A woman in nice ST:TNG costume - but tsk tsk, nice costume, but she didn't even know her rank - two pips on collar! Suicide Costumes as worn by the actors -Rick Flagg, Katana, Harley Quinn, Deadshot, El Diablo, Killer Croc, Capt Boomerang, The Joker, Slipknot, Entrantress. And film cutouts of cast. And Hodor's door! (A man sees a door... and cries!)
Next was Julian Sands' free talk. An interesting man with a varied career who cares about his craft! Final free talk was Laurie Holden (X-Files and Walking Dead)
A treat was getting pictures with a Judge Dredd bike with helmet and gun. There were also original costumes as worn by actors at the back. I also got one of my pictures signed by Carlos Ezquerra – original Artist: 2000 AD.
And of course, I got plenty of pictures of myself and my book, plus with my new t-shirt.
So, with the London Film and Comic Convention (LFCC) about to start tomorrow, I'll be embarking upon another voyage into geekdom. I'll be promoting my book giving out free samples, wearing the t-shirt and making new friends (or arch-enemies!).
Tomorrow, I had planned on making a vid for Kickstarter; I still might do. As some of you know, The Starguards is a hefty 750-page book. Some of you wiser ones had advised me to break it down into the 4 parts it could be. Well after years of reluctance, I have now seen the wisdom in this and have embarked upon Project Starguard - to make Book 1 into a 4-book series. But to do so would have needed more funds for printing, covers, editing/formatting, publishing, etc, hence the Kickstarter fund. I even made a practice video at work I may share that some day!
I have decided to delay Kickstarter until next year during the London Book Fair as I need to write more for the 4 books. This wouldn't change the storyline, just add more to characters and the world around them. That's books 1-4.
Currently, Book 2 is now being divided into a 3-book series and they are in rude health. That means I could have a 7 book series out next year, rather than 2! After that there are potentially another 2-3 books from what would have been Book 3.
So I look forward to posting reports and pics for you from 3 days at the LFCC. If you're reading The Starguards, I hope you're loving it and hope you can post an honest review where you can. Cheers...
They've arrived! A new Starguards t-shirt and 40 free book samplers for London Film and Comic Convention 29th-31st July.
Also have a book ready for Books and Authors UK free giveaway. Looking forward to more readers!
Saturday June 26th
The British Science Fiction Association and The Science Fiction Foundation held their AGMs and a mini-con at Imperial College.
Special guests: Space artist and Guest of Honour David A Hardy and writer Liz Williams. The panel discussions were interesting and the individual interviews with Hardy and Williams.