Thursday 19 April 2012

Alt.fiction 2012 Day 2: Belief and revelations…

Day two of alt.fiction was basically a morning full of fantasy so I couldn’t really ask for more. It began with a discussion of they who were not to be named throughout the panel, or the EDFF. For those not in the know that’s the Extremely Dangerous Fairy Folk and centred on the darker side of the EDFF – this is not your Disney fairies. In fact an interesting revelation was that initially J. M. Barrie intended Peter Pan to be the antagonist in the story and that is why when Peter Pan is first introduced we do not know whether he is a force for good or evil.

Graham Joyce and Kate Laity had an animated discussion about the subject of the EDFF and it really was a pleasure to watch. Joyce admitted that he is an atheist but believes in the EDFF. Because of his stance, he has to believe that EDFF’s come from within humans initially, almost like the Maori believe in their spirits that come out of them and have “malevolent intent”.

The most interesting aspect of the conversation for me was relating to memory and the fact that we humans reconstruct our memories to make them safe. It is a mechanism for explaining and compartmentalising our memories and that is why our perception of an event or our beliefs may actually be an inaccurate recollection of the real event but feel as real and relevant to us as they first did.

What was also interesting was Laity’s acknowledgement that she can’t always remember writing sections of her books, that she must tap into her subconscious when writing and doesn’t know where some elements come from. The spirits within perhaps. For me it was a relief to hear that, as there are sections of my novel that upon reading I realised I had no recollection of writing them. It was reassuring to hear someone else say the same thing.

The next panel was ‘diversity in fantasy’ with Mark Charan Newton, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Anne Lyle and Sarah Cawkwell. The panel began with speaking about the representation of minority groups in fantasy and explored race and sexual orientation and how readers react to it. The explicit gay sex scenes of Richard Morgan were among the examples given, and another revelation was finding out that the only real negative reaction Mark C. Newton’s character received was that he was “not gay enough”.

What was most notable for me during the day though was gender representation in fantasy. Particularly interesting for me as a reviewer, was the fact that (concluded in a Strange Horizons poll) there are more reviewers that are male than female, and more male authors being reviewed than female authors. Anne Lyle confirmed this was true in terms of reviews she has received for her book. A book, which I must point out as a female reviewer, I reviewed! I am officially the minority.

Thinking about recent blogs I’ve read, gender parity at conventions and in the genre community has been under discussion. Paul Cornell recently stepped down from a panel and stated that he would no longer be part of panels in which there was not gender parity, and of all the panels I saw him on at alt.fiction this indeed had been adhered to.

Anyway the diversity in fantasy panel also brought with it the revelation that Dumbledore was gay, a point that I seem to have completely missed when I read the Harry Potter books. That must have been a pretty low key and last minute reveal from the author, which again reflects the reluctant attitude that still exists within the genre to exploring and representing certain areas of society.

Finally religion in fantasy provided an interesting ending and another revelation from the panel. Adrian Tchaikovsky pointed out that fantasy has stock religions – the desert dwelling fanatics, the evil catholic types and the strange pagans – something I have never consciously noticed in fantasy, but yet have managed to unknowingly write into the world of my own novel. That has certainly given me food for thought, and investigation.

So alt.fiction day two was really an eye-opener on many levels with the overall theme of the day being the growth of the under represented. The conclusion and the happy thought I took away with me is that fantasy is moving in the right direction, and perhaps this is a really exciting time for me to be breaking into fantasy writing and hopefully contributing to these positive changes on a wider scale. A great convention and an immersion into the genre. Alt.fiction 2012. The end.

Elloise Hopkins.

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