Four Days In Brighton - World Fantasy Convention 2013


So, I trekked home from Brighton on Sunday night via foot, train, plane, bus and taxi and collapsed in a heap in the most frozen house in Co Dublin at midnight, happy and overwhelmed and inspired and feeling more confident about my story than I have in months. 

It didn't start out that way. Thursday morning, as we got to the airport I was accosted by extreme anxiety. A stray thought that I couldn't remember plugging out the hair straightener rolled on like a katamari until I was a giant ball of tearful worry verging on panic. My hero Dad schlepped out to our house to check and, you know it, all was fine. Of course, I wasn't really worried about the hair straightener, I was worried about taking another step down the writing road and being sent back by some grim gatekeeper. 

Well, no such gatekeeper thrust their pointing finger in my face at WFC13. Rather, it was a parade of one delightful and interesting person after another, from the names I knew and was keen to see such as Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie and Damien Walter to the many new names and faces that welcomed me into the fold.

Lots of other people are summing up the weekend via the #wfc13 hashtag on Twitter, so I just want to jot down some of the most useful things I learned and some of the best experiences I had. Sound good?


Tidbits of useful stuff culled from notes taken at panels, talks, pubs: 

  • Apply for Clarion!
  • There are no absolutes in publishing.
  • It took Iain Banks 14 years to get a book deal from the moment of his first submission, 6 novels before “the one”.
  • It is the VOICE that gets the agent, from the front page. The strong, original, gripping, individual voice of the author is the most important thing, everything else can be modified, edited, fixed, etc.
  • You have to hook them by the 7th paragraph: get the biggest ideas out there up front. People won’t read far enough to get to them otherwise. Also, people will buy any old shit on page one that you can’t get away with halfway through the book.
  • Flawed good, complex evil
  • You can do so much when you don’t know the rules! Do whatever the fuck you want, there are no rules.
  • Find the thing you are a geek about and magnify it. For example, Pat Rothfuss is a geek about economy/money so it occurs a lot in his stories, whereas there is no money in LOTR, and Pat Rothfuss never talks about clothes. There is a partnership between reader and writer that supplies the extra details that are not given in the text.
  • All of the world grows around the character. Ask the right questions about the character and the world grows around them.
  • How people curse shows what they think is taboo, what they think is taboo shows what they think is dirty, which is what they are afraid of. So, most of our curses refer to sex. In a different culture, different taboos could lead to different curses that reveal/exude the culture. 
  • Details are clues into what is important in the story, they are areas to focus on for additional information. Don’t over-explain what is ordinary, only draw attention to what is out of the ordinary for the character themselves - a character should stroll right past something that is ordinary in their world but stop with amazement at something that is not usual (even if that thing is something that would be usual in our world).
  • Robin Hobb carried Fitz in her mind for 2-3 years before he was ready to be committed to the page. First person perspective pulls you into the story more.
  • Every chapter must have something in it to remind that it is fantasy. Each chapter is a short story - must have a beginning, middle and end. 
  • Neil Gaiman's speech as he MC'ed the World Fantasy Awards was the absolute best:  "Make the art that only you can make, write whatever the fuck you want, there are no rules." Yeah!

Fun stuff that made me smile inside and out:

  • Meeting so many amazing people who are all at heart interested in offering up the fantastical to the world, to entertain and enlighten.  A great crowd in the Newbie corner, in the corridors, on the floors, just all over :-)
  • Pat Rothfuss and Scott Lynch feuding on my name badge.
  • Getting a photo of @theallthing with his heroes Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch.
  • Chatting with Robin Hobb about Assassin's Apprentice.
  • Kaffeeklatsch with Joe Abercrombie. 
  • Inspirational words of Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill.
  • The most adorable book dedication from Shimon Adaf: "Hope you enjoy it. I've tried, anyway."
  • Arthur Machen themed pub crawl.
  • Late night ghost stories presented by Dr Probert & Thana Niveau.
  • Seeing an uncountable number of authors I love and admire wandering around just being normal humans and exceptionally nice people. 
  • Coming home with stacks of swag.
  • Eating the best burger ever at Burger Brothers in Brighton. 

TL;DR: Fantastic weekend, fantastic people, fantastic stories - time to start saving for next year in Virginia!