Over the long weekend I was at Eastercon (AKA Dysprosium, AKA the 66th British National Science Fiction Convention). Somebody kindly arranged for it to be held a short distance from my home, so it would have been churlish not to attend.
My panel was “A Maturing Readership – Young Adult Fiction”, skilfully moderated by Peadar O’Guilin. My fellow panellists were Adrian Tchaikovsky (author of the Shadows of the Apt series and general polymath) and 14-year-old Emjay Ameringen, keen reader of YA. It was really refreshing to be on a YA panel with an actual ‘young adult’ on it, and Emjay greatly enriched the discussion with her eloquence, humour and confidence.
There was a general discussion of how far YA had previously existed in another form, and the audience made many excellent suggestions of books from the past that would have supplied teenagers/young adults with reading material. Adrian suggested that in the past genre fiction had sometimes been treated as transitional reading, after children’s fiction and before adult fiction, and that this tradition might have had an influence on current YA literature.
A study by Bowker Market Research in 2012 found that 55% of people buying YA books were adults. We discussed possible reasons for this – the liberating themes of discovery, potential and overcoming boundaries in the books, the cathartic expression of intense emotions that adults aren’t supposed to show, the tight pacing, etc. Emjay said that these statistics didn’t bother her – in fact, knowing that adults were enjoying the same books that she was reading made her feel more mature.
Emjay also commented on the joys of re-reading the same book at a later age, and we talked about the ways in which a single book can provide a totally different reading experience depending on age. (I may now have to hunt down a picture book called The Bravest Ever Bear.)
With my panel out of the way, I spent the next couple of days running around the con having fun.
I attended panels/talks on supernatural detectives, early female paleontologists and archaeologists, the crazy/exciting areas of molecular biology, storm-chasing, the history of steampunk, turning books into roleplaying games, and how a fictional Home Office should deal with the paranormal.
Here are some things I learnt at Dysprosium:
1) Scientists have used DNA-folding techniques to create a 4-bit biological computer inside a cockroach.
2) It’s possible to end up inside a mile-wide tornado without immediately realising it.
3) This woman existed. Jane Dieulafoy, nineteenth century archaelogist, explorer, sharpshooter, writer, soldier and officially licensed cross-dresser.
4) Some Bolivian detectives use magic skulls to help with their investigations. (Also quite an intimidating presence during interrogations, apparently.)
Then there was the fiercely contested Dalekdrome!
Sadly, the technically impressive ‘Telepresence Dalek’ fell foul of the seesaw, and never finished the course.
The ‘Malek’ did better, but the weight of the baby dalek in the papoose was a little too much for her to manage the ramps.
The winner, chasing through the course with reckless panache, was ‘Davros, Wiper and Exterminator of the Daleks’! (It was also considered by judge Herr Doktor to be the most aesthetically pleasing.)
Needless to say, all daleks who completed the course dealt with the wooden stairs by pushing them contemptously off the edge of the table…
On Sunday afternoon, the BSFA Award ceremony was held in the Discovery hall. Cuckoo Song didn’t win Best Novel, but I am still deeply honoured to have been on such a strong shortlist. Thanks to everyone who voted for me, and congratulations to the winners!
Finally I had a very enjoyable and relaxed Kaffeeklatsch, with a group who put up with my attempts to force-feed them biscuits and creme eggs. We discussed my current project (an adult urban fantasy), the ‘Knowledge’, post-mortem photography, the changing book world, etc.
All in all, a lovely convention, during which I encountered so many friends I lost count. Many thanks to the organisers for finding room for me in the programme!
The 66th British National Science Fiction Convention, otherwise known as Eastercon, will take place this weekend (3rd-6th April) at the Park Inn Hotel, Heathrow. This year the con has taken the name Dysprosium, an element that appears to be used in nuclear reactors. I’m sure we shouldn’t let that worry us at all.
In case anybody is interested, I will be at large at Eastercon/Dysprosium. Here is my schedule:
Friday 3rd April, 18:45, Endeavour Room
Panel: A Maturing Readership – Young Adult Fiction
What makes us grow out of young adult fiction? But if we do grow out of it, why do so many adults prefer it? And if we are moving on from young adult fiction, what are we moving on towards? Or what should we be moving on towards? Or is the whole concept just a new form of snobbery?
Panellists: Emjay Ameringen, Peadar O’Guilin, Frances Hardinge.
Sunday 3rd April, 17:30, Discovery Room
The BSFA Award ceremony. Since Cuckoo Song is on the shortlist for the British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Novel, I will be there with my fingers crossed. Needless to say, gifts of consolatory or congratulatory drinks will be quite welcome. And immediately afterwards…
Sunday 3rd April, 18.45-20.00, Armstrong Room
Last weekend (28th/29th March) the very first Dutch Comic Con took place in Utrecht. It was a vast and ambitious event, drawing in 20,000 visitors.
Fate didn’t want me to attend. I arrived at Heathrow to find that all Amsterdam flights had been cancelled due to the biggest power outages in Dutch history. (My jinx effect usually only strikes down locations after I arrive in them, not before.) I waited it out, however, and a mere six-and-a-half hours later was on a flight to Amsterdam, laughing at puny Fate.
Guests included artists, animators, actors, cosplayers and a few writers, including me. I was stationed at the signing table at the stall for the American Book Center, which had its own treehouse complete with owls.
Both of us were looked after very well by the folks from the American Book Center – many thanks to Rick, Jitse, Tiemen and everybody else!
Thankfully I also got the chance to wander through the con.
The person driving the Delorean here may look slightly familiar.
I rather liked this creepy fairground stall advertising the B-Movie Underground & Trash Film Festival.
The cosplayers were particularly resplendent. Regrettably I didn’t get a picture of the Jazzguls (Ringwraiths with slope hats) but I did catch these:
I also seized the chance to explore Utrecht a little.
I was also introduced to delicious Dutch pancakes. Later, when I was back at Schipol airport preparing to fly home, I discovered this Giant Red Button in the Touch Down cafeteria.
When I pressed the button, the lamp spun and a siren sounded. Then a man appeared and made me a pancake.
I considered prising the whole thing off the counter and trying to take it home, to see whether its summoning powers worked there too. Sadly, I wasn’t sure I could smuggle a stolen pancake-generator through customs…
Many thanks to Dutch Comic Con, the American Book Center, Corinne Duyvis and everyone else for an excellent weekend!
I’m afraid there’s no way to be cool and suave about this. I’m on the shortlist for the Carnegie Medal!
As a result I’m currently this:
And a little bit this:
The other (brilliant) books on the shortlist are these:
When Mr Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan
Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan
The Fastest Boy in the World by Elizabeth Laird
Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman
The Middle of Nowhere by Geraldine McCaughrean
More Than This by Patrick Ness
I’m very excited by the Carnegie Shadowing Scheme. Right now, thousands of reading groups all over the UK are getting ready to “shadow” the Carnegie by reading all the books on the shortlist, so that they can discuss which book they think should win.
Meanwhile, an elite film crew of two has just visited to film me in my lounge!
I don’t usually do well with film cameras. As soon as I’m in front of one, I forget how to move or talk like a human, and become a weird, stilted marionette. My visitors did a good job of putting me at my ease, however, and I mostly managed not to stare at the cameras. We’ll just have to see how the film looks when it’s up on the Carnegie website!
“How to Write for Children and Young Adults and Get Published”
My World Book Week started early, with the How To Write for Children and Young Adults and Get Published conference on Saturday 28th February. The conference was arranged by Writers & Artists, and hosted at the rather grand Bloomsbury offices on Bedford Square. Many thanks to Claire Daly of Bloomsbury for briefing me and generally looking after me!
Throughout the morning, panels of literary agents and commissioning editors discussed the dos and don’ts of submissions. In the afternoon, attendees could choose between three two-hour masterclasses: Holly Bourne‘s class on YA fiction, my class on writing for middle grade, and Sue Hendra‘s class on picture books.
Mine was the largest class (thirty of us crowded around the long table) but I was lucky enough to have a really keen, interesting, varied and insightful group. We had attendees from different countries and professions, working on a wide range of projects – contemporary, historical, fantasy, humour, adventure, fiction and non-fiction. I really enjoyed our discussions, and in particular everyone’s offerings for the ‘childhood memories’ exercise. Good luck to everyone with their writing!
Visit to Ashford School
On Tuesday 3rd March, I visited Ashford School in Kent, which turned out to be friendly, mellow, engaged and interesting, with some nice old Victorian buildings and really impressive paintings by students on the walls.
I spoke to Years 6, 7 and 8, who had interesting questions to ask about the writing process, changeling folklore, horror stories, etc.
I even had the chance to chat with members of the Sixth Form Literary Society about university, hobbies and choices.
Kitschies Award Ceremony
The Kitschies are amongst my favourite speculative prizes – they’re fun, forward-thinking and fascinated with tentacles. Last year, I was invited to be one of the Kitschies judges for the Golden Tentacle (debut novel) and Red Tentacle (most entertaining, progressive and original novel). I leapt at the chance and said yes… and immediately disappeared under an enormous pile of books.
In the end, there were 195 submissions. Fortunately I was only one of five judges, a couple of whom got through books faster than a woodchipper. My comrades-in-arms were Glen Mehn, Adam Roberts, Kim Curran and Cat Webb. (Glen did a great job of organising and motivating us as we scaled the vast mountain of books, and made sure none of us fell into the crevasses.)
The awards ceremony took place on Wednesday 4th March at Seven Dials near Covent Garden. Glen was master of ceremonies, Cat and Kim announced the Golden Tentacle winner, and Adam and I presented the Red Tentacle. (Adam’s speeches were a lot more eloquent than mine, despite the fact that I had prepared a script and he hadn’t.)
Jim Kay also gave a very enlightening speech about the trials of cover artists, whose work requires a great deal of skill, effort and patience, but whose contributions are so often overlooked.
The proud winners of the Kitchies tentacles were:
Red Tentacle (novel): Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
Golden Tentacle (debut): Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre
Inky Tentacle (cover art): The cover of Tigerman, by Glenn O’Neill
Invisible Tentacle (natively digital fiction): Kentucky Route Zero, Act III, by Cardboard Computer
Black Tentacle (special achievement): Sarah McKintyre
Visit to Townley Grammar
My day started inauspiciously, when I found myself stranded at Bexleyheath station without a taxi in sight. After I phoned the school in a slight panic, however, I was rescued from my predicament by Batgirl.
In the comfortable, friendly library, I talked to members of Years 7, 8 and 9, many of whom were magnificently disguised as book characters…
…as were the teachers.
Finally, I was interviewed by ace student reporters Medusa and Holly Golightly (I assume they don’t always go by those identities.)
And just because I can’t resist, here are some more of the World Book Day costumes.
Picocon (so named because it is fairly small) is a science fiction and fantasy convention run annually by the Imperial College Science Fiction and Fantasy and Gothic Horror Society (ICSF). It’s designed to be handy for students and fans based in the London area, but in practice quite a few people seem to travel long distances in order to attend, and come back year after year.
I was the first act on the Saturday, and since the theme of this year’s con was ‘duality’ I decided to focus upon Cuckoo Song, and held forth about doppelgangers, doubles and changelings.
I was followed by the fearsomely eloquent Cory Doctorow, who talked about digital securiy, cryptography, surveillance and ways that one might lose personal control in a world based upon the Internet of Things. It was a fascinating talk and very entertaining.
Picocon’s fearless agents had hunted down some particularly reprehensible examples of tawdry merchandise. Such items were then paraded before the attendees, who could bid to save or condemn them (all money to charity). Those objects deemed irredeemably ugly or tacky were ceremonially frozen using liquid nitrogen and then smashed with a sledgehammer. Very satisfying.
In the afternoon I appeared on a panel with Cory, discussing dystopias, the benefits or dangers of writing groups, audience avatars, writing YA and how to be a subversive aunt/uncle.
On the Sunday, the guests of honour were Kari Sperring and Ian McDonald. As it happened, their speeches worked well as a pair (which fitted the theme of duality). Kari’s talk was about new ways of regarding history, challenging the accounts written by the ‘winners’, and avoiding mindless repetition of the dominant narrative when writing historical fiction. Ian’s speech was about new ways of regarding the future, the Long Now Foundation, and their desire to move away from mankind’s disastrous short-termism.
Both talks were very interesting, and their panel in the afternoon covered a lot of ground, including gender and the emergence of fictional futures shaped by cultures that weren’t American or European.
All in all, Picocon is a warm, friendly, welcoming convention, and they look after their Guests of Honour very well. Many thanks to Stephen Ingram and the other organisers. Thanks in particular to Noor Mulheron for chaperoning me throughout the con, and making sure that I was fed and watered and didn’t fall down any holes.
It’s been a rather wonderful couple of weeks.
Over the last few months, I’ve been so caught up in helping judge the Kitschies Awards that I virtually forgot that there were other prizes out there. I was reminded in the best possible way, by the discovery that Cuckoo Song had reached several shortlists and longlists!
Furthermore, Cuckoo Song is on the shortlist for the brand new James Herbert Horror Award. It’s in excellent and sinister company, alongside books by MR Carey, Nick Cutter, Andrew Michael Hurley, Josh Malerman and Kim Newman.
The book has also been longlisted for the Secondary Award of the Oxfordshire Book Award. This is really rather lovely, since it’s an award voted for entirely by children, who nominate their favourite books.
And just as I was recovering from the news of these, I heard that Cuckoo Song had also been shortlisted for the British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Novel! The rest of the list is dripping with brilliance, and includes works by Ann Leckie, Dave Hutchinson, Simon Ings, Nina Allan, Claire North, Nnedi Okorafor and Neil Williamson.
All of this is frankly pretty staggering. If anybody wants me, I’ll be over here celebrating with a giant pile of pancakes…
As winter draws in, the wild Frances moults its cool summer coat, and grows a new (indistinguishably similar) winter coat. Although shy, it can still sometimes be sighted in urban areas by the diligent Frances-spotter.
On December 10th, I visited Goldsmiths College, London University in order to give a guest seminar for the students of the Creative Writing MA course.
The subject was “strange fictions”, a very broad topic, so I focussed upon a few pitfalls and thoughts for the fantasy writer, with reference to my own work and the books that had inspired me. Many thanks to Maura Dooley for inviting me, and to the students for asking such erudite and well-considered questions!
Swanshurst School‘s second Year 7 Literary Festival was held on 15th December. (It’s apparently the largest girls’ school in Europe, and has a rather splendid model of the solar system spread out across the grounds.)
Aside from myself, the guests included Sally Nicholls, Katrice Horsley, Spoz, Leila Rasheed, Bali Rai, Tony de Saulles, Jodi Anne Bickley and Helen Monks. There were creative writing workshops, storytelling sessions, art classes that produced gleeful pictures of dead cartoon dogs and elephant poo, chocolate-themed rapping, author talks and poetry.
I gave two author presentations and one creative writing workshop. There were some fine character ideas, including a Medusa whose dearly loved family had been killed by humans, and who managed to get her revenge after achieving world domination. (Always nice to see old stories turned around and seen from a new perspective.)
Congratulations to Gareth Beniston, Tracy and the other school librarians on organising such an exciting and varied event. A big thank you also to Ella and Mia for looking after me during my visit!
This was my third Kids Lit Quiz National Final, and as usual I had the easy, cushy job of mascot. This year I was mascot-author to two teams. One was King Edward VI Grammar School (as luck would have it I was wearing red and black, and thus was colour-coordinated with their uniforms). The other was Hexham Middle School, who were looking surprisingly chipper despite having got up before 5am in order to travel down for the event. Both teams scored well, and I hope they’re thoroughly proud of themselves.
Here is the winning team from Litcham School, with guest of honour Anthony Horowitz, and quizmaster Wayne Mills in his very fine hat.
Erymsted School came second, an impressive feat given that they arrived late and missed the first round.
Third place went to Comberton School, after a tense ‘sudden death’ round to resolve a three-way tie.
Afterwards there was cake.
Many thanks to everybody who organised the event, and congratulations to all the teams!
After the impressive vastness of Loncon3 and the London Film and Comic Con, FantasyCon proved to be smaller and more relaxed, with a friendly, approachable atmosphere. It was held in the rather attractive Royal York Hotel, next to York’s railway station.
My first panel was “Gentlemen Thieves, Lovable Pirates and Sexy Tricksters”, wittily moderated by James Barclay, and my co-panelists were Joanne Harris, Kim Lakin-Smith, Libby McGuigan and David Tallerman. We discussed the glorification of criminals, whether they were a gender slant in their depiction, the appeal of subversion and rebellion, and whether sympathic crooks needed to have potential for redemption. A good, thorough description of the panel can be found here.
Later that day, I appeared with Gollancz editor Gillian Redfearn, Tom Pollock, James Oswald, and Joanne Hall in the panel “The Chosen One”. Personally, I’m wildly allergic to Chosen Ones in fiction, and said so at some length. The conversation touched on the inspirational effect of such characters, the class implications of notions of ‘birthright’, the question of who the Chosen One was chosen by, and the fact that quite a lot of ‘Chosen Ones’ seemed to be white males. Joanne Hall has a description of the panel here.
(I realised afterwards that I had neglected to embarrass Tom Pollock by mentioning Filius Viae from Tom’s excellent The City’s Son – both a ‘ Chosen One’ and a really interesting subversion of the trope.)
In the evening, I competed in a live, SF-and-books-themed game of ‘Just a Minute’, skilfully compered by Paul Cornell. Scores were read out by Tea and Jeopardy‘s butler extraordinaire, Latimer (AKA Pete Newman). My fellow contestants were Gillian Redfearn, Kate Elliot and Stephen Gallagher, and we had proper buzzers that buzzed and lit up.
I’d never played it before, and hadn’t predicted how much fun it would be. Several times contestants fell prey to ‘hesitation’ because they or the audience were laughing too much. I learnt two other things as well. 1) I am capable of prescient challenges. 2) Audiences like it if you offer to kill them all.
Stephen Gallagher was victorious, and I came second (with Gillian Redfearn barely a step behind).
Altogether, a lovely convention. On the Sunday I even had time to scamper all over York, like a history-obsessed squirrel…