Gollancz Book Festival reviewby ray burke on 10/21/15
Gollancz Book Festival Review
At Waterstones Piccadilly Circus, 17th October, 2015.
The authors - about 30 of them - were divided throughout 6 different panels with themes of a half hour duration. They rotated between the 2 rooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors. They talked about themselves, their books and ideas, plus general anecdotes off piste or rather surreal.
The venue itself was well-chosen, not crowded, with friendly staff dispensing refreshments and wine later. A goody bag on each chair provided a programme, an audio book quiz for the interval, a couple of pin badges (Games of Scones - Dinner is Coming and a Gollancz Fest 2015 badge), with promotional material from several authors present or otherwise. The main gripe was not having microphones for audience questions so not all could be heard.
The 1st panel consisted of Ian McDonald (book theme - a lunar mafia in 'Luna'), Brandon Sanderson (Allomancy - magic using metal), Sarah Pinborough (zombie apocalypse) who vaped her way through the session, and Den Patrick (Gothic horror mutants). They described their books with humour, with character and plot insights, and the aesthetics and tone of their books. Sanderson was passionate about the wonder of magic. There was an interesting question about multimedia and books and if ebooks should incorporate videos and pictures within the main body, but the consensus was to have such things in an appendix so as not to distract the reader.
The 2nd panel was moderated by Gollancz editor Marcus Gipps and heralded the appearance of debut authors Antonia Honeywell (The Ship), Mark Stay (Robot Overlords - film and book), Catriona Ward (Rawblood), Alex Lamb (The Roboteer), Tom Toner (The Promise of the Child), and Al Robertson (Crashing Heaven). Up for discussion were the origins of their stories, how they managed to get published, and their cover art. We also had to cheer each time they worked the title of their book into a sentence. They also confirmed that family have no real interest in your work and when Catriona Ward told her mom she was going to a magazine for an interview, her mom thought it was for a 'proper' job and not an interview about the book!
The 3rd panel had more established authors in Aliette de Bodard, Brad Beaulieu, Suzanne McLeod, and Ben Aaronovitch. Their theme was the cities they based their books in (Paris, Sharakhai, London, London, respectively), the research they did (not much in the case of London other than lunch time walks around Covent Garden area and using Google Maps), real versus fantasy cities, and providing maps for their cities or countries, Aaronovitch arguing that if there's no map in high-fantasy then it's not worth reading (slightly tongue in cheek!). Beaulieu mention software for creating cities or lands called 'Fractal Terrains' which seems like an interesting tool to use.
There then followed an interval of twenty minutes (extended by the late running of the author group on 2nd floor). During this time wine was served and an audio book quiz started - the audio quotes far too obscure to me! I bumped into Ben Aaronovitch on the stairs and had a chat, thanking him for his time and invited him to a LOTNA (sci-fi) group meeting. He stated once he had finished his latest book he would think about it :-) Because of the late running groups downstairs, author Paul McAuley, and Gollancz editor Marcus Gipps and Publishing Director Gillian Redfearn (who also kept the panel timings) took a Q&A session, which ended in a humourous 'buy them drinks and they'll publish your book - maybe').
The 4th panel looked at the real roots of their books and their research. Moderated by author Paul Cornell, the group included Edward Cox (book theme - relic guild), A.K. Benedict (a time-travelling serial killer in Cambridge), Joanne Harris (The Gospel of Loki, but more famously known for her book Chocolat and she knows it!), and Mark Adler (werewolves, and one-time magic mushroom connoisseur!). Up for discussion was research versus filling in the blanks and making things up that seem real. The fact that historical fiction is still a speculative endeavour. And the weird fact from Paul Cornell in his research that the police still use tape cassettes as they cannot be easily cut and manipulated (compared to digital data) and that a specialist cassette maker only has as its sole client the police!
The 5th panel included Paul McCauley, Pat Cadigan, Edward Cox (moderator), Joe Hill and Jon Wallace. As with all the other authors they were very erudite, funny with their stories and segues into the bizarre. This came from their topic: predictions of the future apocalypse. Why do we have a fascination with the apocalypse and conspiracy theories? What are our contingencies for them? Why will we build canoes out of human skin and bones when the oceans rise? :-) Because other resources might run out! And somehow only the Queen and Keith Richards will survive to repopulate the Earth! Or maybe not! As Pat Cadigan pointed out people face their own personal apocalypses each day (hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc) or her own current fight against cancer! And what impact would aliens have or (the opportunistic) religious sects on the apocalypse? Fun and thought-provoking topics about our mortality as individuals and as a race.
And lastly, the 6th panel discussed their experiences of failures. Here, Mike Ward (DestinyQuest - gaming adventure book), Jaine Fenn (AI space opera), M.G. Harris (childrens books), Joe Abercrombie (epic high-fantasy), and Chris Wooding (horror sci-fi) put their thoughts to ideas they thought would work but didn't, rewrite hell, why projects fail (bad writing, wrong timing, lack of direction), shifting genres (not always a good idea), surprising successes, self-hatred of own books (mostly by Joe Abercrombie), and branding.
There followed a signing session by all of the authors in the basement. Books were buy-one-get-one-half-price and as stickered on hard backs, but not having read any of these authors, I didn't partake. There was also a chance to water oneself at the bar with authors and editors. I didn't schmooze at this event as I could see the impending meat fest around them and I had my own marketing plans. This event was more enjoyable and personal than the London Book Fair author sessions in April, so well done to Gollancz. So I took my leave on what was a very enjoyable evening.