This weekend just gone by was the Bristol Literature Convention, only the second convention I’ve attended since Lock-Down and I’ll admit, after Fantasycon I was nervous. Not for any real discernible reason, I’ve been to Bristolcon the past three years it’s run as a physical convention and last year as a virtual con. This year, it showed. Previously I have attended to sell my books, attend workshops and appear on panels, occasionally making connections. The selling side never really worked out for me, it’s a better venue for publishers to showcase their stuff. This year I put aside the sales and focused on the other aspects and, whether it’s because we’re all desperate to make new connections post Lock-Down, or because I’ve been going a few years and my face is known now, it seemed like a curtain was lifted and a whole new world spread out before me, a land populated with literary giants!
A quick side-bar, I hate the term ‘literary’ when talking about figures on the writing circuit. It makes some people seem more ‘highbrow’ (and I dislike that term for its eugenicist origins) or intellectual, it’s elitism and I hate that idea that, although we’re all writers, some of us are ‘better’ for some reason that vaguely equates to ‘I’m smarter than you’. But, that leads into a pretty good con story.
A few years back my partner/editor came with me to Bristolcon and watched a panel with then Guest of Honour, New York Times Best-Selling Author, Jasper Fforde. I’d recently taken a hit to my confidence from some very critical, nay cruel, Amazon reviews and was questioning going forward as a writer. In the panel the question was raised as to how to deal with criticism. Jasper’s reply was absolutely spot on, ‘Don’t read it’. It’s pretty much where I draw my rule one ‘Thou Shalt Not Read The Reviews’ from. At that point my partner was determined that I would meet Jasper Fforde. Fast-forward to this year and we signed up to a workshop, given by Jasper, about ‘Your flagging, non-career in writing’. It was an eye opening piece about how, having achieved the status of a Best-Selling Author, Jasper was struggling to recreate that initial success. He posited the question ‘Who here feels qualified as a writer?’ no-one raised a hand, whatever the level of education (myself sitting on a meagre GCSE English and a GNVQ in Media studies) the overall feeling in the room (which also hosted the winner of this years BFA Award for best fiction) was of impostor syndrome. Of course, prior to the workshop I had, encouraged by my partner, sat with Jasper in the hotel lounge telling him all about how he saved my fledgling career. We talked for about half an hour before the workshop about politics, life, projects and it was amazing! Coming out of the workshop, headed back into the con, my partner announced that this was a goal achieved, four years in the making, to get me sat down with Jasper Fforde. A wry voice from behind asked “And how did that work out?” and there’s the man himself, following us up the stairs.
This year at Bristolcon I paneled down the table from Jasper, siting next to the indomitable Anna Smith Spark, the Queen of Grimdark Epic Fantasy. I will freely admit that, over the years of seeing Anna glide effortlessly through conventions in her amazing array of heels, I have been (and still am to an extent) massively intimidated by her comportment and poise but, having sat and chatted briefly on panel I can confidently say she is a lovely person whom I’m sure will be gracing the circuit for years to come.
Another very intimidating figure whom I’ve been reluctant to approach in the past (not-so-much because I’m not familiar with his ever-so-popular works but because of his amazingly terrifying eyebrows) was Adrian Tchaikovsky. This year, having moderated a panel featuring himself, the irascible Jaine Fenn, Kevlin Henney and Susie Williamson I found myself, that evening sat at the same table as Adrian, Gareth Powell, J. Dianne Dotson, and Allen Stroud whom (I discovered at Fantasycon) had been editing much of my freelance work.
Now, it might seem like I’m name-dropping and, to be fair, I am. There are famous authors and there are well-known authors and it’s important to remember that, under the hype, we’re all just people who wanted to tell stories. As Jasper said;
“You Don’t Learn Writing. You Discover your Vocation.” – Jasper Fforde
And there I was, at the Hilton Doubletree for a day, surrounded by other people who discovered the same vocation as me, as us, and they were’t imposing, or aloof or any ‘better’ (in a purely objective sense). They were wonderful and welcoming, funny and fallible. I’d recently seen a tweet from an aspiring author saying that they’d been advised to join Twitter to find ‘their people’, that they’d only found other authors and since we were all ‘the competition’ this author was quitting Twitter. But we’re not competition, we are a community. We talk about other works than our own, we recommend other authors books, we support each other when we struggle. My last blog spoke about how singularly isolating writing can be and, in process, it can be. But you go out there to talk about your stuff and you’ll find a whole community eager to listen.