Edge-Lit at the QUAD, Derby – Saturday 14 July 2012
A (very) personal account from a reborn newbie…
–Â R.A. Bardy
Itâ€™s been a very long time since I last attended a convention of any sort, and if we discount the more commercial sort as typified by MCM Expo and other collectors’ fairs, the last major convention I attended specifically for readers and writers of genre fiction would have been Conspiracy ’87 in Brighton, nearly 25 years ago.
My memories of Conspiracy are vague, but I was a very young, ebullient 17-year old at the time, and filled with the boundless enthusiasm and naivety you could probably expect from somebody just discovering themselves. I was the editor of an RPG ‘zine at the time, and am ashamed to admit that my interests, hobbies, and everything else back then revolved categorically around my ego. Okay, some things never change, but… I do recall that the majority of my Conspiracy weekend was spent chasing Jim Burns, the artist, who was the Guest of Honour back then, or one of them at least.
If I remember correctly – and there are a lot of grey hairs and matter to plough through nowadays – there was a huge, spacious room full of Jim’s work on display, I had one of those Philips tape recorders the size of a small suitcase permanently attached to my shoulder, and spent a lot of my time hovering around the gallery trying to nab 5 minutes of conversation/interview time here and there. Suffice to say I never did get much out of Jimbo, and the majority of the weekend passed me by in a haze. I do also recall a brand new movie being showcased at the event, called The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The Eighth Dimension or something eerily similar, but that’s another story.
Anyway, back to the task at hand… Edge-Lit 2012 was the first genre convention I’ve attended in years, and it brought back some long-buried memories and personal admissions from way back then. I didn’t have a clue what to expect, there was no big need or desire to waste away my time hanging around hoping for the merest scrap of a sound bite from somebody who probably didn’t give a shit anyway, and there was no great expectancy or urgency for anything other than to go along and see what happened. I suspect this is how any newbie feels, and I have an even greater appreciation of how overwhelming it can sometimes be.
I arrived a little later than originally hoped, and on approaching the registration desk immediately bumped into Sarah Pinborough putting her badge on. I’ve been a fan of Sarah’s for a while, and until now had only really exchanged the odd Tweet with her, so it was a pleasant surprise to find she immediately recognised my @mangozoid tag. We chatted briefly, and then I had a quick nosey around the tiny dealers’ room, where I was fortunate enough to bump into Roy Gray behind the TTA Press stand – I published some of Roy’s stuff yonks ago, in Sierra Heaven (my fiction ‘zine from ’96-’98) , and it was a genuine delight to see him “in the flesh” so to speak. This was another highlight of my day, especially when Roy mentioned that Ian Sales was around somewhere (and I think Peter Tennant too, although I didn’t catch him at any point throughout the day) – both were authors I’d published in Sierra Heaven, and it dawned on me that there may well be many more such happy accidental meetings to come.
I left Roy, promising to return a little later, and made my way down to the cafe/bar for a cuppa – it was about 11.20am at this point. The first thing I noticed was Rod Rees at an adjoining table, around the same time I also saw his name in the schedule of events, attached to a reading with Andrew Hook, and scheduled for 11am – the temptation to ask why he wasn’t there was overwhelming, but I resisted. In retrospect, I think a number of the early events were poorly attended, and this was to prove a recurrent theme throughout the day.
As I sat in my little corner of the world and watched all the established literati gathered in pockets throughout the room, I went through the planned events for the day, trying to decide which ones I wanted to attend and which would have to be passed over. Is this how things were at all conventions, I wondered? Various streams of programming going on and having to choose between them all whilst still ensuring an appropriate amount of respect was shown to the bar? It felt like being at school all over again, minus the bar time of course.
To his credit, Alex Davis (the chief organiser) had put together a varied collection of readings, panels, and discussions, as well as an assortment of practical workshops, almost all of which looked appealing. All the panels and events were free, but due to limited space in the Digital Studio the workshops required pre-booking. I must confess to registering for a couple of the workshops but never actually attending them – earnest apologies if anyone missed out because of this, and I promise to be more prudent next time. There were a couple of events and screenings scheduled for the evening, including two Lovecraftian movies – my only gripe about the evening programme was that the H.P. Lovecraft panel clashed with the Edge-Lit Quiz, but thatâ€™s by-the-by.
I’ve never done the quiz thing before, and must confess that together with the raffle (more of which later), this was by far the most fun-fuelled part of the day, so much so that I would encourage anyone, newbie or otherwise, to get involved: it’s a great way to meet others, and if you don’t have a team there are usually plenty of people who will happily accommodate another member (space permitting), and the good-natured banter made for plenty of laughs and jeers along the way. My own opinion is that the quiz is a very social event, and should be earmarked and sold as such: the more the merrier as far as Iâ€™m concerned, thus my slight disappointment that it clashed with the Lovecraft panel mentioned above.
The first panel I attended, at 12pm, saw Lee Harris (Angry Robot) leading an involved discussion with Sarah Pinborough (author), John Jarrold (agent), and Christian Dunn (publisher, Black Library) on the whys and wherefores of publishing today. The general consensus seemed to be that self-publishing was bad, agents were still relevant, breaking into writing was very tough, and Waterstones were going down the pan. It was involved, a little personal, and interesting, and a number of varied avenues were explored. All in all, I felt it was a success, although perhaps with nothing majorly earth-shattering coming out; although we did learn that finding your book on the “3 for 2” table at Waterstones was not a bad thing and probably cost your publisher a lot of money to place you there, despite the general opinion that these books are there for clearance purposes because the shop can’t shift them!
After this panel I joined Sarah and Lee down at the bar, together with several others. It was a delight to meet Emma Newman, and Anne Lyle too, both members of the Angry Robot stable. Anne showed off a dazzling necklace that looked suspiciously like a not-so-angry robot, something I initially thought may have formed part and parcel of an Angry Robot contract but alas ’twas not to be. I also took the opportunity to try Catherine Hill’s flavoured fudge, samples of which were offered to all and sundry: there was Chilli, Cinnamon, Lavender, and Ginger to choose from, and I tried them all save the Ginger, and very nice they were too, especially the Lavender. Time flew by, and I was soon making tracks, heading for my next panel, this one on the subject of Breaking into Writing – you’re sensing a theme here, I can tell…
Lee Harris stepped in for Marc Gascoigne to moderate this panel, and also present were Anne Lyle, Rod Rees, and Gaie Sebold. There followed some extensive discussion about how each individual author had “broke through”, and it soon transpired that Rod Rees held similar views to many, namely that there’s no money in short stories, and that whether they admit it or not, the majority of authors are “chasing the rainbow” (my phrase): just a small part of the success achieved by the likes of Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, etc. will set up any writer for life, making it a viable, defining career choice. Of course, this kind of success is hard to come by, and can be totally unpredictable, as evidenced by the recent Fifty Shades.. phenomenon (and to all intents and purposes, these are not even well-written books). Once again it was made abundantly clear that self-publishing wasn’t a viable choice for many, although it does have its uses when it comes to older works, and also that breaking into writing was definitely not for the faint-hearted, requiring a lot of hard graft and no small amount of patience. This proved to be another all-round entertaining discussion, and although Gaie is a new name to me (she wrote Babylon Steel), it is abundantly clear that she has worked very hard to be where she is today, and I tip my hat to her, wishing her every success in the future.
I made another brief sojourn into the bar after this, swiftly followed by a short sit-down while I demolished my packed lunch and caught up with emails.
At 4pm I attended another panel, this one entitled Does Fantasy Need Archetypes?, and this time moderated by Mark Yon (who later proved to be a useful person to have on your quiz team). Gaie Sebold and Anne Lyle joined him, together with M.D. Lachlan (of Wolfsangel and Fenrir fame) and Adrian Tchaikovsky. Stereotypes, archetypes, and fantasy tropes were bandied about in an appropriately Wimbledon-esque manner, and although I remain unconvinced the question in the title was resolved, the general consensus seemed to be that archetypes are a necessary aspect of any fiction if it’s to stand a chance of being picked up and widely read by others.
Following the archetype panel, I took the opportunity to quickly nip out into the tiny dealers’ room and grab a few things, as well as catch up with Roy again on the TTA Press stand. I bought a few bits and bobs and then hurried back for the Ray Bradbury Retrospective, something I’d been looking forward to for most of the day.
Mark Yon played moderator again, with Christopher Fowler, Emma Newman, Graham Joyce, and Sarah Pinborough also in attendance. All proved to be huge fans of Bradbury, although Graham felt a little at odds with some of the others because he lamented Ray’s perceived lack of productivity after 1960 – it’s fair to say that Bradbury’s more recent work was heavily media-biased, encompassing film, TV and digital media I believe. It was obvious that Ray Bradbury had touched the lives of all the panelists in some shape or form: Emma Newman confessed to having a good old cry when she heard about his death, and it was abundantly clear that Christopher Fowler was a massive fan of Ray’s work. The other recurrent topic under discussion was whether Ray Bradbury was cut out for novel writing, with Graham in particular advocating that Bradbury should have stuck to what he did best, namely short, wham-pow stories that are well-written, edgy, and challenging the establishment. All in all, nobody could be faulted here, and it was a suitably gratifying send off in my opinion, with Sarah saying quite rightly that Ray Bradbury strutted his stuff, had a great innings, and can put his feet up and enjoy the rest after everything he did to bring this heavily disparaged genre to the attention of many.
The Edge-Lit Raffle was originally scheduled for 6pm, with the illustrious Sarah Pinborough and Lee Harris paired for hosting duties – a last minute flurry of ticket-selling meant that things got off to a late start, although it’s fair to say that attendance figures were relatively low so there was always going to be a good chance of coming away from the raffle with something at least, whether or not it was something you actually wanted. Of course, at the time I never realised just how entertaining a combination Sarah Pinborough plus wine would prove to be, and to her credit (and Lee’s) it made the entire event very special indeed: I have seen acts at London’s Comedy Store get less uproarious laughter, and am now given to understand that the pair of them were chosen for just this reason. Hugely entertaining, laugh out loud funny, and a memorable experience for all concerned: Sarah’s irresistible charm and outrageous quips were worthy of a much larger audience, and Lee’s cutting remarks pure gold at times. My thanks to the pair of them for a job well done.
There were 28 lots in all I believe, the majority comprised of signed books and assorted selections of books, and there was also the chance to win a residential writing weekend worth Â£150 in there too. I am delighted and more than a tad embarrassed to admit that I won the residential weekend, and not only did this make the whole day well worth the entry fee but this made my entire weekend, and probably my whole month for that matter: I look forward to taking up this opportunity with gusto, and would like to thank Alex Davis once again for giving me the chance to be a part of it.
With the bedlam of the raffle behind us, there were a couple of hours set aside for an evening dinner break of sorts, and I took advantage of this by settling down in the bar, where I fortuitously bumped into Ian Sales. As mentioned previously, I published some of Ian’s earlier work many years ago, and took the opportunity to bend his ear about various scientific aspects of a novel I’m working on. We were soon joined by Roy Gray and spent a good few hours chattering away – between the three of us, several drinks were had, and a myriad of topics covered. We embarked on a grand shimmy down the memory lane drainpipe, covering everything from Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds music extravaganza to Rick Wakeman’s Journey To The Centre of the Earth, and my erstwhile laser disc collection even got a look-in. I’ll take this opportunity to say “Thank you” to both for their indulgence, and look forward to the next time.
Finally, the Edge-Lit Quiz kicked off at 9pm, and having found myself devoid of prospective team members, I took a wander up there anyway, hoping to see if there were any fellow lost souls looking for a team. There were indeed several options available, and I eventually plumped for the team comprising Kevin Redfern, Hayley Ogilvy, and another young lady whose name I’m afraid I can’t recall. The young lady in question had to leave very early on however, but I was fortunate to catch Roy loitering around, and motioned for him to join us. I think our team name was something along the lines of Wookie Space Hamsters, and Kevin Redfern quickly proved to be a dab hand at these quiz thingies: it’s fair to say that he answered the majority of questions for our team, and amassed a small horde of the spot prizes on offer too: these were periodically thrown in the mix by Quizmaster General, Mr Alex Davis Esq. and the first to shout out the answer would nab the prize – Kevin bagged nearly all of them.
We were all in good spirits, and halfway through the quiz Alex ensured that all participants got the opportunity to come up and take something from the prize table, indeed “No-one leaves empty handed” seemed to be the motto of the day, and jolly grateful we all were too. The quiz finally wound up circa 10.30pm, and I was quietly confident we must have done pretty well given Kevin’s vast font of genre knowledge, although when it came to exchanging papers for scoring it was also readily apparent that the Red Shirts Rule! team also had an ace up their sleeve, in the guise of Mark Yon, Panel Moderator Extraordinaire and Genre Encylopaedia in Residence. We knew it was going to be a close-run thing, and sure enough, the Red Shirts team won by just 1.5pts (or 1.25pts if you count the 0.25 they gave us for getting “of” correct in one of our answers). And so the Red Shirts won, and given they were the volunteers and helpers for this year’s Edge-Lit event, their winning prize of free tickets to next year’s Edge-Lit automatically saw Alex Davis devoid of helpers for next year’s event! Volunteers may apply directly to Alex on…
All told, ’twas a great evening, and we retired to the bar downstairs to lick our wounds and reflect on the day’s events. Conscious of the 2 hour drive ahead of me to return to York, I still stayed ’til just before midnight chatting amiably to anyone who’d listen… Finally, I couldn’t help but notice there were pockets of established literati gathered throughout the bar, just as there had been that morning, only this time I moved a little more confidently through them, saying my goodbyes and farewells to all and sundry, and finally turning my back on that little corner of the world which, frankly, had given me so many fond memories in such a short space of time.
So this is how things are at conventions, I wondered… Let’s hope so. See you in Brighton, at FantasyCon 2012, hopefully. And massive thanks to Alex Davis for organising such a cracking, intimate event. I am already heartily looking forward to next year’s Edge-Lit.
— @mangozoid (R.A. Bardy)