The World Science Fiction Convention is nomadic, descending each year upon a different unsuspecting city like a benign but unpredictable mothership. This year it was London that found itself overshadowed by the con’s intergalactic bulk, and bathed in an eerie, blu-ish glow.
Well, it took over the ExCel centre in London Docklands anyway.
Over five days, the convention featured over a thousand programme items – panels, workshops, interviews, lectures, plays, games, parties, concerts, film and TV screenings, dances, science talks and a great costume competition on the Saturday evening.
I was on four panels, the first of which was Fallen London: Recreating London in Games, moderated by Christi Scarborough and featuring Jonathan Green and Kate Nepveu. We talked about London’s rich history, and the fact that so many London-themed games were set in the Victorian period. (A good writeup of the panel by Kate Nepveu can be found here.)
My second panel was You Write Pretty, in which we each chose a sentence from a fantastical work, and had to convince the audience that our choice was the best of the bunch. Greer Gilman chose a quote from Andrew Marvel’s The Garden, EJ Swift picked a sentence from Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad and Christopher Priest took a line from Robert Sheckley’s The Specialist. The audience ultimately voted in favour of my quote from Jabberwocky, but I suspect that had more to do with Lewis Carroll than my arguments.
Where is the YA Humour was my third panel, with co-panelists Gail Carriger, John Hemry and Jody Lynn Nye, and moderator Suzanne McLeod. Our answer to the title question: ‘There’s quite a lot of YA humour actually, you just have to look further than The Hunger Games.’ (In other news, Gail Carriger wears excellent hats, and John Hemry owns a tribble.)
My last panel, The Education and Training of a Young Protagonist, featured Zen Cho, John Hemry and Gail Carriger, with David Luckett as moderator. We discussed virtual schools, boarding schools for “gifted” children, combat training, tailoring education to the metaphysic and whether classrooms and teachers would still have a place in the schools of the future.
I also gave a reading of extracts from Cuckoo Song and A Face Like Glass, and hosted a Kaffeeklatsch, which roughly translates to “hour-long natter over tea”. And in this case, biscuits. Lots of biscuits.
My spare time was spent roaming around and admiring people’s costumes and the displays in the Exhibit Hall.
Here’s “Jolie” the robot dog, who can speak Japanese, Spanish and English, and who sulks if she’s carried in a holdall or not given her bone toy.
Pigeon Simulator! It detects your motions, and by flapping your arms you can soar, swoop and bank, while the big screen gives you your pigeon’s-eye-view.
It’s possible that I now own more steampunk goggles than I did…
The World Science Fiction Convention, otherwise known as Loncon 3, is now less than a week away. I shall be at large, and may be spotted at these times and places:
Thursday 14th August: 20:30-21:00, London Suite 1 (ExCeL)
Frances will be reading an extract from her latest book, Cuckoo Song
Friday 15th August: 10:00-11:00, London Suite 3 (ExCeL)
Panel event: Fallen London – Recreating London in Games
Panellists: Frances Hardinge, Jonathan Green, Kate Nepveu, David Cheval, Christi Scarborough
This panel celebrates some of the ways that London has been represented in games; including LARP, tabletop, point-and-click and videogames. We also explore some of the darker aspects of seeing London with a player’s eye.
Friday 15th August: 18:00 – 19:00, London Suite 4 (ExCeL)
An hour of coffee and conversation with Frances.
Friday 15th August: 21:00-22:00, Capital Suite 7+12 (ExCeL)
Panel event: You Write Pretty
Panellists: Geoff Ryman, Greer Gilman, Frances Hardinge, Christopher Priest, E. J. Swift
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say, so let us behold some fine fantastical sentences. Our panel have each picked a sentence, and will have a chance to make their case for why theirs is the fairest of them all — but it will be up to the audience to decide.
Saturday 16th August: 12:00-13:30, Capital Suite 13 (ExCeL)
Panel event: Where is the YA Humour?
Panellists: Gail Carriger, Frances Hardinge, Jack Campbell, Jody Lynn Nye, Suzanne McLeod
Much of what we see in the YA shelves is dour, grimy and deadly. Why is that? Where can we find the lighter side of young adult fiction? Which authors should we look to for a satisfying happy ending or a good belly laugh?
Saturday 16th August: 19:00-20:00, Capital Suite 10 (ExCeL)
The Education and Training of a Young Protagonist
Panellists: Zen Cho, Gail Carriger, Jack Campbell, Dave Luckett, Frances Hardinge
Kids have to go to school, whether it’s a modern day educational institution or the school of hard knocks in a futuristic dystopia. How is education treated in SF? What might a futuristic classroom look like? What are some great examples of how education and training have been used by other authors?
Hope to see you there!
On 12th and 13th July, the first Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) spread its wings and took to the summer sky. And it was glorious.
It was also very, very popular.
YALC took place as a part of the much larger London Film and Comic Con (LFCC). I first had an inkling that there might be more than a couple of people turning up to the combined conventions when I arrived outside the Earls Court Exhibition centre, and found that the huge forecourt was completely filled by one enormous, snaking queue.
I felt a little guilty as I bypassed the queue, using my special guest pass. (Though I also felt a bit like a member of the a secret society as I was shown in through a back door, which made me feel better.)
Within the halls, LFCC was crowded, hot as a pressure cooker, spectacular and beautifully distracting.
The YALC events took place in the Book Zone, the slightly cooler end of Earls Court 2.
I was on “Bring Me My Dragons! Writing Fantasy Today”, a panel discussing YA Fantasy. My co-panelists were Jonathan Stroud (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Lockwood & Co.) , Amy McCullogh (Oathbreaker’s Shadow) and Ruth Warburton (The Winter Trilogy), and the panel was ably chaired by Marc Aplin of Fantasy Faction.
We discussed the characteristics of YA heroes, and Jonathan came up with a particularly interesting answer, defining them by their smallness, lightness, perception and quickness of motion and wit – advantages they need against those who are larger, stronger and ostensibly more powerful. Discussing whether darker elements should be excluded from YA fantasy, Ruth pointed out that our notions of what is ‘safe for children’ are specific to our own place and time. Throughout history very young children have been forced to work, fight or die, and in many countries this is still the case. Fantasy is an opportunity to portray this honestly.
The question of ‘moral messages’ was raised, and in different ways we all said that we didn’t feel a need to thump our readers over the head with an ideology. As Amy said, you can explore issues without telling the reader what to think.
(By the way, I am still not used to being live-tweeted. It’s a little like making an offhand remark, and then realising that not only is the nearby microphone on, but it has just transmitted your words to every speaker in the world.)
One thing most of us YALC authors hadn’t realised was that we would be sharing the Green Room with the celebrities of LFCC. Over the weekend I spotted Princess Leia, R2D2, William and Lee Adama, Faramir and Cersei Lannister, not to mention the 8th doctor having his photo taken by Giles from Buffy. (Yes, I am aware that all of these people have real world names, but it’s very hard to remember that when you catch sight of them across the room, munching a sandwich.)
Throughout the weekend, YALC had an enthusiastic, buzzy, sugar-rush atmosphere that has left most of us a bit giddy even now. I think this was partly due to sharing space with LFCC, and the alchemy the occurs when you pour related fandoms into the same flask and stir vigorously. Co-habiting with LFCC also meant that there was a high cosplay count, and our audiences were liberally sprinkled with resplendent Khaleesis, Captains America, anime characters and Doctor Octopuses. (Doctor Octopi? Doctors Octopus?)
Many thanks to Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman, Booktrust and everybody else responsible for organising such a fantastic event!
Just because I can, I will end this post with a few examples of the wonderful costumes at LFCC/YALC.
On the 7th July, the mighty forces of the British Science Fiction Association and the Science Fiction Foundation did unite, for a day of AGMs, panels, interviews and discussions of matters speculative and fantastical. The BSFA was kind enough to invite me as their guest of honour.
The weather was less kind, to the point of being downright unsporting. My walk to the venue was considerably more aquatic than expected. Fortunately my little paper map held out, and only collapsed into a papier mâché tatter just as I reached my destination.
I did at least manage to catch part of the first panel, featuring the SFF’s guest of honour, Jo Fletcher of Jo Fletcher Books. It was a cross between a literary discussion and a balloon debate, the other panellists ‘pitching’ different books to Jo, who used her formidable editorial instincts to decide which ones she would ‘publish’.
Next it was my turn to be interviewed by Tom Pollock (The Skyscraper Throne trilogy). Tom was a generous, insightful and skillful interviewer, and managed to give some shape to my ramblings and digressions.
We discussed children’s fiction with a bodycount, ‘neat’ resolutions versus ‘messy’ complex endings, dead parents, questionable surrogate parents, hats, geese, whether romance in YA fiction can push out depictions of other relationships, and whether my worlds were dystopias.
Tom was also very modest, and did not mention
a) that his second book The Glass Republic had just been shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award,
b) that the very next morning he was throwing himself off the Broadgate Tower and abseiling 165m to raise money for St Mungo’s Broadway.
(It’s OK, he survived.)
After lunch, Sophia McDougall (Mars Evacuees, the Romanitas trilogy) interviewed Jo Fletcher, who described the journalistic and publishing career that has led to her running her own imprint. She also talked about the rise of internet vitriol, working with legends such as Ursula le Guin, and running a convention with a broken neck. When asked what sort of manuscripts authors should avoid sending her, she mentioned vampires (she’s seen enough of them for a lifetime) and dystopias (soon to be out of vogue).
The last item on the schedule was my panel with Farah Mendlesohn, Niall Harrison and Virginia Preston. My fellow panelists scared me beforehand by asking whether I would mind a “frank and free discussion of my work”. Since they are all terrifyingly intelligent, I had visions of my books being meticulously dissected while I hid quivering under the table.
In the event, my fellow panel members were actually fairly gentle with me, and no hiding was required. We discussed what constituted a ‘good’ character in my books, Farah suggesting that it was one who “would open doors that everybody else had told them should remain closed”. We also talked about rebels and rule-breakers, mentor-figures and ways that gaming has affected my writing.
Many thanks to everyone at the British Science Fiction Association and the Science Fiction Foundation for a very enjoyable day!
I mentioned that I was looking for an excuse to go back to the Story Museum, didn’t I?
Fortunately the nice people who work there invited me over to run a workshop at the Museum.
On Wednesday 4th June, I worked with students from Shellingford Primary School, looking at ways of fleshing out a story character. The students came up with lots of really inventive and imaginative suggestions throughout. A character who fell into the sea, were munched by fish then grew gills! A hero whose most important relationship was with the villain, since without him he’d have nobody to fight! A character plagued by terrible flashbacks whenever they saw their nemesis!
At one point, we discussed the way things that a characters’ experiences could change them, and I asked whether anybody knew what had happened in Batman’s childhood. To tell the truth, I liked the “raised by bats” and “swallowed a bat” answers better than the real back story.
I was also pleased that “liking hats” was suggested as a character ‘strength’. (The student who suggested that was clearly adept at assessing his audience.)
Afterwards, all the students came up with their own brilliant characters, including a cookie-based hero (with raisin eyes and sesame seed buttons) questing for the rare Alien Cookie, a troll-hating rhino-rider, a mermaid doomed to be killed by a witch, Lava Man battling his nemesis Water Man, and a schoolgirl overcoming her fears of change and going to a new school.
Many thanks to The Story Museum for letting me come and play again, and to everybody at Shellingford Primary for sharing their ideas with me!
Last March, I was invited to Oxford’s Story Museum for a secret photoshoot. I’m not generally a great fan of cameras, since I’m about as photogenic as a mousetrap. However, I wouldn’t be attending this shoot as Frances Hardinge, but as the book character of my choice.
This threw me into wild indecision. I don’t have a single favourite book character, I have hundreds. I was tempted by the Cheshire Cat, but wasn’t sure how to disguise myself as a disembodied smile. In the end I chose one of my favourite tricksters – The Scarlet Pimpernel.
On the day of the shoot, the wonderful Ginny Battcock presented me with a complete outfit in my size, including a powdered wig and a beautiful red frock coat, all borrowed from the National Theatre Company’s wardrobe. Then the makeup expert Sue gave me a powdery, courtly pallor, and drew a tiny black heart on my cheek.
I then spent a happy hour play-acting, flourishing handkerchiefs, brandishing masks and generally being larger than life, while the excellent photographer Cambridge Jones took pictures.
And when I saw all the photographs later, they were brilliant.
I became even more excited when I learnt the names of the other authors involved: Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Malorie Blackman, Philip Pullman, Julia Donaldson, Anthony Horowitz, Michael Morpurgo, Jamila Gavin, Shirley Hughes and her daughter Clara Vulliamy, Francesca Simon, Charlie Higson, Benjamin Zephaniah, Geraldine McCaughrean, Terry Jones (from Monty Python), Cressida Cowell, Holly Smale, Katrice Horsley, Kevin Crossley Holland, Steven Butler, Ted Dewan, Michael Rosen and Katherine Rundell.
Nonetheless, I still imagined that the exhibition would be nothing more than a photo gallery. I was beautifully wrong.
26 Characters has taken over two floors of the museum. Each of the photos nestles at the heart of a carefully created set-piece, often filling a room. As Charlie Higson put it: “You can step inside twenty-six great books.”
You can sit in Badger’s parlour from The Wind in the Willows, and hear the crackle of the fire. You can stand on the deck of Treasure Island‘s Hispaniola, or even swab it if you like. You can try to steal the One Ring (though you might regret that). You can push through a wardrobe full of fur coats, into Narnia.
I don’t care how old you are. If you love books and can reach Oxford, you should drop in at the Story Museum and see 26 characters.
While you’re there, stop in at the Talking Throne. Grab a board, choose some word tiles to give yourself a pick ‘n’ mix title, then proceed grandly up the red carpet and sit on the throne. It will announce you by your chosen title, with fanfare.
I had myself announced as “The Devastating Cheese of the Underworld” before thinking, hmm, didn’t I write a book about that?
There is also the Story Loom, demonstrated to us by Ted Dewan (in a splendid Victorian outfit). He regaled us with the sad tale of its lovelorn inventor, while the machine filled the room with sedate music and smoke. (The little buttons on the front say things like, “Foreshadowing”, “Past” and “Dream”.)
Now I just need to find an excuse to go back…
On the 8th May, Cuckoo Song will be published. To celebrate this, next week I will take part in my first ever blog tour.
Given the cuckoo in the title, embarking upon a series of guest blog posts seems pretty appropriate. Feel free to imagine me as a hatted cuckoo, flying between other birds’ orderly, well-designed blog-nests, and dropping in my posts like misbegotten little offspring.
Here is the schedule:
5th May 2014
I don’t have to do any work for this. I just need to marvel as Casey Ann devises some face art based on the book’s cover. I can’t wait to see what she creates!
6th May 2014
I will be talking about the direct and indirect inspirations for Cuckoo Song, including some of my childhood fears…
7th May 2014
Seven facts about the writing of Cuckoo Song will be revealed. Sadly none of them involve time travel to the 1920s.
8th May 2014
Nostalgic memories of the books I read when I was young: totalitarian rabbit states, child thieves, murders, malevolent boulders – everything a growing child needs.
9th May 2014
I will be answering interview questions about my writing, my rolemodels and women in my life that have influenced me.
I hope some of you will visit these blog-nests to watch my egg-posts hatch. In the meanwhile, here is a picture of a young cuckoo impersonating a baby sedge warbler.
On Thursday 24th, I could be found in Manchester’s FAB Cafe for a World Book Night event. (The alert amongst you may recall that World Book Night was actually on the 23rd. This, however, was a Fashionably Late World Book Night celebration.)
I had never been to the FAB Cafe before, and it turned out to be beautifully-appointed underground geek lair, complete with Daleks, Cybermen and sci-fi memorabilia. Indeed, my first reaction upon seeing it was to remark “Eeeheeheehee!” or something similarly eloquent, then run around like a madwoman photographing everything. I would defy anyone not to do the same.
The high point was the readings given by local authors and poets, including R A Smith, D A Lascelles, Tony Curry, Sarah Grace Logan, Anna Percy, Dermot Glennon, Zach Roddis and Jackie O’Hagan. There was a lovely mix of tones and subjects – gritty cynicism, macabre humour, dryly witty and subversive feminism, historical fantasy, and sheer chutzpah. I pitched in as well, giving a reading from the soon-to-be-published Cuckoo Song for the first time.
A far better and more detailed account of the evening can be found here, on D A Lascelles’ blog.
Ed Fortune (columnist and correspondent for Starburst Magazine) suggested that he record an interview with me, to be transmitted for FAB Radio International‘s The Bookworm programme, which he co-hosts with Ninfa Hayes. I agreed, and we found a small, quiet-ish cloakroom at the back of the bar in which to conduct the interview.
I couldn’t help noticing that the door clicked to behind us with a disturbing air of finality. Sure enough, it was an auto-lock. We were trapped in the cloakroom.
We gamely went ahead with the interview, ignoring the possibility that it might only be broadcast posthumously, after the discovery of the dictaphone with our skeletons months hence. In the interview (which can be found here) you may notice a slight hint of panic in our voices.
Fortunately the FAB Cafe staff were on the ball, and came to let us out…
Many thanks to everybody involved for letting me come and play. It was lovely meeting you all!
Another of my stories has escaped into the world! Today sees the official launch of twinned anthologies Noir and La Femme, edited by Ian Whates. Both contain fantasy, horror and SF tales that explore the dark, cynical, heady world of noir, but the latter focusses upon that most dangerous and ambiguous of creatures, the femme fatale.
My story, “Slink-Thinking” can be found in La Femme. It’s noir, but of a slightly peculiar breed. My femme fatale won’t be found peeling off long gloves, or wielding a cigarette holder. She’d need opposable thumbs for that. And a pulse…
Here’s the full Table of Contents for both anthologies:
1. Introduction – Ian Whates
3. Frances Hardinge – Slink-Thinking
4. Storm Constantine – A Winter Bewitchment
5. Andrew Hook – Softwood
6. Adele Kirby – Soleil
7. Stewart Hotston – Haecceity
8. John Llewellyn Probert – The Girl with No Face
9. Jonathan Oliver – High Church
10. Maura McHugh – Valerie
11. Holly Ice – Trysting Antlers
12. Ruth E.J. Booth – The Honey Trap
13. Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Elision
2. E.J. Swift – The Crepuscular Hunter
3. Adam Roberts – Gross Thousand
4. Donna Scott – The Grimoire
5. Emma Coleman – The Treehouse
6. Paula Wakefield – Red in Tooth and Claw
7. Simon Kurt Unsworth – Private Ambulance
8. Jay Caselberg – Bite Marks
9. Marie O’Regan – Inspiration Point
10. Paul Graham Raven – A Boardinghouse Heart
11. Simon Morden – Entr’acte
12. James Worrad – Silent in Her Vastness
13. Paul Kane – Grief Stricken
14. Alex Dally MacFarlane – The (De)Composition of Evidence
About the Authors
The launch party for both books is at 6pm this evening at Eastercon in Glasgow. I won’t be there, but I hope others will drop in and enjoy the party! For those who aren’t at the con, La Femme can be ordered here.
On 29th March, I dropped in at Hounslow Library to give a talk and reading as part of their Spring Fair.
I was given this comfy, colourful corner in the Children’s Section.
Many thanks to those who stayed to listen, despite all the other attractions at the fair. (I think my large, cuddly goose puppet was a bigger hit than I was.)