So, when the opportunity came up to hear Adam Roberts and Charles Stross speak as part of Sledge-Lit in Derby last Saturday, I went along to experience the event from the periphery.
In this lurker's opinion, Sledge-Lit was a pretty darn good introduction to British fandom. As a one-day event in an art-house cinema in the city centre, it was informal, accessible and not too intense. It was quite possible - as I mostly did - to sit and listen to panels discuss genre writing and then pop out for a wander and a breath of fresh air in the breaks.
And I even had my views on small-press publishing turned pretty much 180° by what I heard on a panel in the morning (Sledge-Lit's prime movers are also involved in small press imprints, so they were well represented at the event).
Seems that I had mistakenly filed them i my head alongside the vanity publishers when they're really the literary equivalent of independent record labels, reflecting the tastes and ethos of their owner-curators. Small presses champion local writing, provide an outlet for short stories and novellas, and provide a space where fledgling authors can develop before (if they wish) shaking hands with the Man.
As someone who wants to develop their own writing, it's tremendously helpful and encouraging to know there's a supportive infrastructure out there. I started paying that goodwill forward by buying a couple of things from the trade hall and having a chat with a chap who does fantasy writing workshops for kids in Nottingham.
Charlie Stross took part on a panel asking if 'horror was ready for a new golden age?'. Whether the question was answered to anyone's satisfaction is uncertain, what with the lengthy digression into e-book pricing, but the trip was fun at least. As you'd probably guess from his blog, Stross gives good analysis and good anecdote - the rest of the panel were mostly content to let him get on with it. The man either needs his own slot at these events [hopeful look] or a strong facilitator.
Adam Roberts is exactly as academic as I'd hoped he'd be - the panel he took part in on dystopia in modern SF was easily the most literary and probably the most rewarding from a critical perspective. But it was a team effort as well (credit also to Andrew Bannister, Amanda Rutter, Gavin Smith and chair Jacey Bedford).
This is the panel that really made me think. And on the back of it, I now have some half-formed ideas I want to tease out in a future blog post - something about how both the technocratic and political narratives of progress have become damaged to the point that the dystopian pole remains the sole strong point of attraction for future fiction. We'll see where that goes.
I rounded off the day by listening to readings from authors Andrew Bannister (him again) and Natasha Pulley from some of their favourite work: a Roger Zelazny short story and the Moomins for Andrew and the opening chapter of Michelle Paver's Dark Matter for Natasha. As there were only three of us in the audience we were able to have a friendly chat afterwards. Readers may recall I'm partial to a bit of Zelazny and Andrew was kind enough to recommend me some more.
This was probably the high point of the day for me - actual interaction with other humans - and I'll definitely keep a look out for their latest when I'm next on a book hunt.