At BristolCon – 2018 edition

Apologies for any blurriness in the images. All of these were taken either at short notice, with an unsteady and extended hand, or in poor lighting conditions. Also, due to quality concerns, there are fewer images than I might have wanted.

All the way back in 2016, on my original Blogger site, I wrote a post on a science fiction/fantasy convention in Bristol. Called BristolCon, it brings together the great and humble, and provides means for budding authors such as myself to see into the murky world of publishing and the mechanical side of writing. It also offers opportunities for the bookworm, art lover and niche fan for those who know where and when certain events take place. I’ve been there, and want to tell you all about it.


To preface, my experience began with an Open Mike reading in that same venue to a small but gratifyingly positive audience. While no manuscript merited a repeat performance and only once did any overrun their five minute spot, I managed to get both laughs and applause with my WIP short story “The Exchange Clerks”. Author Joanne Hall read an extract from one of her latest books, Gail Williams brought a short piece based around the myth of Calypso, and another author (Janet Edwards, I think) read a short piece called “Schroedinger’s Datastick”. Those are the stories that really stood out.It was a marvellous session. Highlights of the event as a whole included the threat of stuffed toy dragon Ivor threatening to burn us if we overran too much, and hilarious fiddling with the mike stand as it continually proved too short or too long, and once or twice came apart due to the adjustments. I solved it by plonking it on the table, pushing it down and rolling with it.


100_7745On the day, I arrived, I came in to listen to one of the opening ceremonies, the smaller one in Program Room 2. I then scuttled through to Program Room 1, catching the end of an excellent reading by Gaie Sebold. The panel, “Where Do I Begin”, dealt with how and where authors began new projects, with occasional excursions into the writing process in general and how that is impacted by things such as deadlines. The panellists – Sebold, Adrian Selby, Kim Lakin-Smith and Dave Hutchinson – all had interesting and entertaining experiences to relate. The usual round of audience questions was given to the panel at around the 40 minute mark, including one from me about the difficulties of a project which may end up stalling for some time until you find a way round it. If that panel taught me anything, it’s that my way of writing is pretty much in line with a combination of traits from that panel. We also all agreed that a story sometimes need an early concept axing in order for work to restart.

100_7748The next panel I attended in Program Room 2 was “A Many Headed Beast”. Hosted by Williams, Tony Cooper, Janet Edwards, Rosie Oliver, Jason Whittle and Alicia Wanstall-Burke, it delved into the trials and tribulations of self-publishing, its pros and cons compared to standard publishing, and each author’s experience. These included the heartfelt struggle by Alicia to get her work published, as her native Australia had no small presses for her book and she had to publish it via Britain with export to Australia. The talk was enlightening, encouraging and frightening at the same time. With the questions, I ended up putting a question more than one of us wanted answered; how people with certain issues – a propensity for anxiety in my case – could cope with the stresses of self-publishing and all its publicity and admin-based headaches. The session ended, then I had a natter with Janet which ended up giving me some useful tips and links for future research, and helped give me confidence that my approach of trying for both traditional and self-publishing routes.

The next panel I attended was after lunch, due to circumstances that I’ll describe more fully below. In between all these I explored around the place. I found a copy of Battle Royale going from the Oxfam stall for a very low price, and I decided to give it a good home.  At 3 PM, I decided to attend the Program Room 2 panel “Here Be Dragons. And Yokai. And Tokoloshe. And Kupua…”. The panel featured Nick Hembery, Zoe Burgess-Foreman, Steve McHugh (who was just finishing a reading as I entered), and a good colleague Sarah Ash. The panel’s subject was the use of other cultures outside the traditional Western European and Classical mythologies and folklore which dominate mainstream fantasy. It was an interesting exposure of how we often take things and use them without proper research or respect for their origins, and how you could count the number of mainstream products in the genre that managed to do it right on the fingers of your hands.

Book Launch: Seven Deadly Swords and Kingdoms of Elfin.

I’d initially not meant to attend this, but after my lunch break, it was raining and I was too far from many descent shops to just browse for an hour. So I went back and entered the Program Room 1 event, which was a dual book launch; Pete Sutton’s Seven Deadly Swords, and Handheld Press’s reprint of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s fantasy anthology Kingdoms of Elfin.

During the launch, which I only saw about three quarters of, I managed to hear Sutton reading a long passage from his book, which I think is a fantasy novel which is split between the Medieval Crusades and modern times, tied together with some terrible event which took place during the former time period. The extract was drawn from this, with protagonist Raymond describing the terrible events of a skirmish between the Crusaders and the Saracens, in lots of gory detail. He has researched the period, of course, which allowed him to convey a sense of historical weight within the fantastical context. An alright book, although it didn’t pull me enough to buy it.

The second book was quite different, from an author I’d never heard of. Sylvia Townsend Warner had a successful career as a writer outside the fantasy genre, but she contributed two works that have remained in genre consciousness. The first is the novel Lolly Willowes, and the second is a series of sixteen stories published in the 1970s towards the end of her life, collected into an anthology in 1977 after their serialisation in The New Yorker. This was Kingdoms of Elfin. Until now, it’s been out of print and the rights resting in limbo. I didn’t expect much, and I was blown away by the simultaneously light and scholarly approach to Fae culture. This won me over, and I bought a book in double-quick time.

The Art Room, and the Saga of the Misplaced Event

As with previous years, there is a dedicated room for the exhibition of art from several different artists, and a corner for smaller panel discussions which included an arts and crafts session. There were also workshops being conducted in other parts of the building, but I didn’t find out about these due to problems with the program outlined below. In the art room were several exhibitors who merit a mention. Incidentally, all the photos were taken with permission from the exhibitors and are angled so that a general impression is given without giving enough detail for any potential copying.

100_7742The first artist I encountered during my initial recce was Rebecca Burke. A blogger and writer as well as an artist, her drawings are in black and white, and show an interesting combination of Dahl-style simplicity and a stark reality that struck me. I took a photo soon after my photographic efforts for the next stand.

100_7741The next artist I think needs a mention is Emma Ridley, though hers was the first stand I photographed. A tattoo and commercial artist, her work is both striking and entertaining. My photo captures several of her works, but there was one – the largest and one not currently available for sale or imprint – that I agreed not to photograph due to Emma’s bad experience of a German tattooist plagiarising her work from a photograph.

100_7743The most colourful original stand I did was that of Gemma Beynon. I had encountered her in 2016, but it was only when she remembered herself that my previous session and my photos of her came back to my mind. Her artwork is extremely colourful, covering both the conventional and the surreal. I’ve photographed so as the capture the impression of the entire stall, which hopefully does justice to a fascinating exhibition.

100_7750The star of the art room for 2018 was an exhibition of work for Andrew Skilleter, an artist whose covers and other materials have defined people’s vision of the classic Doctor Who. His tenure, between 1979 and 1994, covers the initial blossoming of the Doctor Who novelisation as something notable and respectable rather than a cash grab. In an age when repeats were rare and some serials were presumed lost or are truly lost to this day, these books become one of our only means of experiencing them. The work on display, which I got permission to photograph at a suitable distance, was stunning. It also included some artwork that unmistakably influenced some of the modern era stories and promotional art. Skilleter’s influence on this quintessentially British science fiction series should not be underestimated by anyone.

I was going to attend a talk with Sarah and Zoe before their panel appearance, but I was the only one there. After some consultation – and the revelation that last year’s 4-5 PM panel on the theremin had been put in the program by mistake. Allowances must be made, as the programs were put together and printed during the very very early morning. We decided as a body to reschedule in this panel for the vacant slot due to a lack of word of mouth compounded by the program being split into three separate parts as opposed to being a single booklet. In the meantime, we spent that free hour talking and talking and talking. My, so much talking. But better, I think, than sitting through a Program Room 1 panel on the use of religion in science fiction.

Happy Halloween Anime

100_7761This small group, headed by Zoe and Ash, looked at horror anime and manga, and how they created different types of horror from the land of the Rising Sun. From anime, Zoe brought to the group Shiki and Hellgirl. While I’d previously been quite dismissive of Shiki (written, which I didn’t know until then, by the same author as Ghost Hunt), I saw that it was actually a highly nuanced and unsettling look at both Japanese traditions surrounding the undead, and humanity’s varying reactions. The second anime, Hellgirl, emerged during the 1980s to shine a light on a culture of bullying and expectation which was causing rebellion in Japanese youth of the time. The premise of a young girl who grants a wish to drag someone’s soul to hell while condemning the requester to the same fate has survived to this day, adjusting to new issues and social terrors.

From the manga side, Ash brought The Girl from the Other Side, creation of young mangaka Nagabe. The premise sees an affectionate tale of two beings from different worlds interacting, and the terrors and tragedies that ensue from their innocent relationship. The drawing style reflects both famous comic artists and – to my mind at least – the German impressionist movement exemplified by movies such as The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. The second manga on the table was Yokai Rental Shop. Reminding me a little of Pet Shop of Horrors, it was about a man who ran a shop where yokai (Japanese monsters/spirits/ect.) were loaned out and could grant people’s wishes, even if the fulfilment was not what they expected or wished for. Other manga mentioned included some works by Jouji Ito, and I Am Hero, a hybrid zombie-psychological horror which will test the reader’s belief in the events taking place.

A recurring element from this talk was how Japanese horror invariably reflected the social anxieties of the time, and how these elements were nearly always lost upon their transition into Western media through remakes. Following this, we were able to compare notes, talk generally, we dissected what made a good horror anime, I chimed in with my scant knowledge to bring up works such as Monster and (in our earlier talk) Blood-C, and it eventually went into general talk about the medium. I’m glad I got Sarah’s pleased look when I mentioned my familiarity with San Jushi (The Three Musketeers).

Day’s end.

I had intended to attend a final panel that day, “Writing the Nonhuman”, with Lakin-Smith, Gareth Powell, Dev Agarwal and Cheryl Morgan. But I was too tired for any more panels, so I joined Sarah and Zoe for some chill time in the hotel bar, which became more of a natter about every subject from anime criticism to advice and shared stories of authorian difficulties. I finally headed home after a long and energetic talk. So I left, and left with memories of a great event.

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