So Saturday brought my first outing to alt.fiction in Leicester and the word of the day did appear to be ‘zombies’. In fact I think it made an appearance in every panel I attended that day, bar one. My favourite occurrence was Adrian Tchaikovsky’s “I’m so bored of zombies”.
That actually cropped up in a rather cosy panel entitled ‘Not another F*cking Elf’ in which Tchaikovsky discussed the perceptions of fantasy and the movement away from Tolkien-esque worlds and assumptions along with Jenni Hill, Paul Cornell and Emma Newman.
This was a really interesting panel focusing on the tropes of fantasy and how the genre has changed over the last 20-30 years, initially with many writers emulating Tolkien’s work and making characters such as dwarfs and elves a genre staple, and then the reaction against that, bringing in new sets of secondary world characters without an elf in sight.
The general consensus was that great fantasy is great not because of the particular character types and races it uses, but because the emotional content is sound and the reader can relate to it.
I see fantasy very much as a way to explore human characteristics and behaviours in an environment in which the normal rules of engagement can be altered, enhanced or abandoned in favour of exploring the fundamental human instincts that exist within us. Zombies were discussed in the context of being the stock baddie that we can mindlessly and guiltlessly slay in our fiction, although the discussion did illustrate that we are moving away from being uncaring killers to genuinely seeking redemption for our actions; we now seem to be acknowledging that primal need to kill but are less reluctant to go through with it without it having a larger cost of that action as the genre develops.
Following that panel was ‘Dragon’s Pen’, a Dragon’s Den style panel with some very game authors showing us how not to pitch to agents and publishers. It was thoroughly enjoyable; a very entertaining way to deliver information on an important step in a writer’s life.
It included some great tips from John Jarrold and Jenni Hill in particular, who reminded us not to rely on the endorsement that your mum/dad/brother/sister loved your book, to follow submission guidelines, to remember that agents/editors are there to help you and to work with you, to not be unwilling to make alterations to your book (it is not perfect as it is), and not to treat agents and publishers as customers – they want to know the ending to the book, they do not want a cliff-hanger in the pitch.
I wrapped up the day with the comics panel, which started with pre-panel shadow puppets from Paul Cornell and Emma Vieceli. Selina Lock, Jay Eales and Mark Chadbourn joined them for a great discussion of comics including which ones they would save from Galactus, the ones that got away, recommendations for comic newcomers, entry to comic careers for writers and artists, and perhaps more enlighteningly the various ways the panellists first discovered comics. It seems Mark Chadbourn was left his by a psychopathic shotgun wielding relative.
So to sum up the day, we were mostly bored with zombies, the word ‘meta’ was also caught sneaking out in various guises, there were lots of laughs, some revelations that may have been better kept quiet, lots of great advice, but most of all inspiration – it is such a buzz listening to people talk about subjects they are so obviously passionate about. Well worth attending. Day 1 was a success. Day 2 blog coming soon.