Sometimes I wonder what the SFF book world must look like to those outside it. To those not enamoured with dragons, fairies, spaceships or extraterrestrials, it probably looks rather strange. Geeky? Most likely. And given the number of altercations in recent years with regards to voting for awards, award renamings and the like, I can’t help but think that it must look as though it is a highly polarized community; a giant amoeba constantly stretching itself thin, its two extended arms always at battle with each other. Maybe the only time it comes together en masse, to regroup, is when a well-known literary author publicly denigrates the genre.
This picture, at any particular moment, could actually be spot on. Yet, also, it’s just a snapshot. It can’t convey the huge depth of this bookish world; the opinions and feelings of all the writers, publishers, editors, readers and fans that make up the community, particularly when some of them prefer not to be hugely vocal through social media.
For me, the last FantasyCon I attended was striking in its cordiality and cohesion. (Though, to be fair, all the FantasyCons I’ve been to so far have been like this.) True, I only know a smattering of people and I spend a lot of my time in the dealers’ room behind my stall, but I see a lot of kindness. Dealers – potential competitors, remember! – helping each other lug boxes of books in and out of the room; buying coffees for each other; keeping an eye on each other’s stalls when you need to rush off to a panel, or the loo; inviting each other for dinner; sharing spreadsheet woes as well as bookish successes. So, particular mentions go to Francesca and Rob of Luna Press Publishing, Noel Chidwick of Shoreline of Infinity, and the Elsewhen Press and PS Publishing team for their bigheartedness.
Then there are those that you get chatting to about a book or short story that you both happen to love and that’s it – you realize you’ve met a kindred spirit. When I happened to mention to Neil Snowdon of the Electric Dreamhouse that I was a fan of Angela Slatter’s stories and Rosie Garland’s magical historical fiction, we got chatting… and chatting. I had a feeling that this enthusiastic conversation could go on for a long time, and over many cons! (I have already thought of more books and films I want to talk to Neil about…)
Then there were the kind writers, readers and friends who helped me launch The Forgotten and the Fantastical 5, and who, later, listened to me read some of my own short pieces (I was sure no one would come, so to see some friendly faces was marvellous!). Thank you also to my fellow reader, Justin Lee Anderson, who read brilliantly and was super encouraging.
There was also music and dance. When I caught the strains of an Eurythmics song coming from the disco I had an urge to leap up and dance. My outer “sensible adult” told me to sit quietly and refrain from any strange jiggling around, but then that kid I used to be – the one who would spin and stomp on the dance floor because of the sheer joy of the music – encouraged me on. Well, that, and Georgina Bruce (a superb writer of the gorgeously creepy) who was already there and enticing me onto the dance floor with come-hither hand gestures. Thank you to Georgina for giving me a chance to let go and enjoy the music! The dance floor is a democratic place. A great leveller.
Lastly, there were the two writers who dropped nuggets of gold at my feet when I was chatting with them. I told Robert Shearman of my desire to write a choose-your-own-adventure type story. Given the fact that he had done just that – and in a rather spectacularly epic and original fashion, taking a decade to complete the project – he didn’t laugh me off the premises. He simply said, ‘Go for it!’ And his encouragement made me smile and I felt that maybe, just maybe, I would go for it. Later, by the bar, I got chatting to editor-extraordinaire Dan Coxon (who is much taller than I expected him to be – because when you get to know people via social media first in my mind they are all my height i.e. short). Anyway… he mentioned a writer-friend who wrote slowly – adding 300 or so words a day to the novel – while also editing. Now, this is my style of writing. I edit as I go. I’m slow. I’m the exact opposite of the writer who gets that first draft down as quickly as possible and then edits later. I’m a tortoise. And that’s okay. It is good to know there are others like me.
There’s nothing original in the idea that kindness is radical; that listening to others who have different opinions on various issues (yes, even political issues) is of value; that we can reflect and learn from everyone’s experiences… but I do think it’s a message worth repeating, particularly when it’s so easy to log into social media and get deafened by the sheer volume of outrage and unkindness. When, on the last day of FantasyCon, my fellow folklore and fairy tale panellist, Ali Nouraei, spoke of the ‘oneness of humanity’ and of the universality and inherent wisdom of the stories humankind has shared – and keeps on sharing – I felt it a fitting conclusion.
So… thank you to the kind people at FantasyCon who made my weekend so full of warmth. You are radical.
p.s. on reflection (and several re-reads) I thought that if you swapped ‘SFF bookworld’ for ‘UK politics’ or ‘global politics’ there wouldn’t be much of a difference. An alien visiting Earth and seeing us busy cranking the heat up on the planet while arguing over, say, Black Friday deals, would think us decidedly odd.