Wednesday, October 30, 2013

BristolCon 2013 - Roundup

I usually follow up a Con with a write-up, and so here is my take on BristolCon, which took place on Saturday 26 October.

Hubby and I travelled down from London by train on Friday afternoon, as soon as I was able to get away from the day job.  It was actually quite a pleasant journey, taking just about two hours on a train we could pre-book seats on.  The hotel, we were pleased to find, was a five-minute walk from Bristol Temple Meads Station, and was modern and comfortable.  It was also conveniently located for the Town Centre and close to bars and restaurants, for those who want to take a break from the Con.

The Con officially began at 10 am on Saturday morning, running two concurrent threads.  I was on one of the opening panels - the panel on Innovative Deaths, moderated by Anne Lyle.  We discussed ways of killing people for over 45 minutes.  Fortunately we didn't seem to scare the audience too much - or at least that was how I interpreted it, as nobody ran out screaming.

After that I caught some of the 'My World is Not Your Sandpit' panel, about fan fiction, in which a rather energetic debate took place.  I have to say I missed the beginning of this panel, but what I saw clearly defined the two sides of the argument.  One side was that if the fan fiction writer is not making any profit from their writing, and the original creator of the world is done writing books about that world, should they not be flattered by enthusiastic fans wanting to play in their sandpit?  The opposing viewpoint was that anyone other than the creator is not going to get the world right because so much of a created world never makes it into the book, and a writer is never really done with their world.  It was an interesting discussion and I must confess I can see the point of the writers who say they don't want anybody else playing in their sandpit, because it's theirs.  Though the chance to be adored enough for someone to want to play in my sandpit would be a fine thing.  It was also pointed out in this panel that fan fiction is an evolutionary stage of the young writer, and this spoke to me as well.  Fortunately my Star Wars fan fiction was written in the days before the Internet and will never be aired in public.

After that I stuck around for the panel on the Evolution of Genre, where among other things the influence of 'real-world' problem on genre was discussed.  Apparently zombies do well during periods of high unemployment and financial restraints.  Vampires apparently do well during periods of affluence.  What this says about us I don't know.

After taking a break from watching panels I joined the other authors for the 'mass signing', for which we'd all been encouraged to bring books to sell at the committee table.  A member of the writing group who'd bought a copy of SOUL SCREAMS a while ago came to get it signed, but unfortunately I sold none of the copies I'd brought with me.  Which was a bit crushing, frankly.  Obviously I need to step up my promotional efforts.

My final programme item was to moderate the small press panel at 4 pm.   I had done some homework on this, and I already knew I had a fantastic panel.  Cheryl Morgan, who runs Wizards Tower press.  Chrissey Harrison, independent film maker and small press publisher.  Jonathan Wright, journalist and editor.  David R Rodger, self published science fiction writer.  I think we gave the topic a good airing, all my panel members engaged in the conversation and we had a reasonable number of people in the audience.  And to be honest, I quite enjoyed moderating.  I think I'd like to do it again some time.

With my commitments over with I sat back to enjoy a couple more panels, venturing into the larger programme room for the 'Beyond Arthur' panel, moderated by Gaie Sebold, and then the panel saying farewell to Iain Banks, moderated by Cheryl Morgan.

And then it was back to the bar, to see out the day with more chat, more food and more wine, and to relax before our train home Sunday morning.

BristolCon is a small local Con, running for a day to be deliberately attractive to people in South West England who can attend without having to book hotel accommodation.  Although small I found it a very well run and friendly Con, especially welcoming to small press and self published writers.

Next year's Con has been set for 18 October 2014 in the same great location.  I am intending to come back next year.  

If you can get to Bristol I thoroughly recommend this Con.  It's a fantastic experience.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Con Conundrums

It has come about that my last two Cons of 2013 fall on consecutive weekends. This weekend I'm at BristolCon, and next weekend is World Fantasy Con in Brighton. At BristolCon I am a participant - two panels and a book signing - and at World Fantasy Con I am merely a delegate.

The usual Con conundrums apply.  The first is - what to pack? For Bristol this is more crucial, since I will be performing the role of 'author', instead of just watching other people do it. So what outfit says 'serious writer' without saying 'I'm mad as a box of frogs and you don't want to come anywhere near me.' Sometimes the Con involves a formal dinner that obviously involves having to pack an outfit for it. Sometimes I worry I try too hard with this issue of Con clothing.  Jeans and a t-shirt is probably an acceptable Con outfit for a writer. It might be appropriate for my 'horror writer' t-shirt to get another airing this weekend.

Mode of transportation is also relevant to the first question. If I'm driving to a Con, I can take more stuff. But this generally only happens if I can take the day I am travelling off work. On neither forthcoming Con I have been able to do that - which means it's easier to take the train from London than travel home, pick up the car, load it up and set off again. But taking the train directly after work means I have to take all my luggage into London, which is another factor to consider. Whatever I take has to be transported on a packed commuter train, and sit in the office until I leave.

On Friday I have to be at work for a meeting, so I will be leaving as soon as possible after that's finished. It does mean that the smart 'work clothes' that will be required for that will have to be my travelling clothes to Bristol. Unless I take a change of clothing.

When travelling to a Con, the issue of having space for books also must be considered. It is impossible to leave a Con without having acquired books. Many of them give out freebies in the delegate bags, and there's a pretty good chance you'll buy some, too. For BristolCon, I am also taking some copies of SOUL SCREAMS for the author signing session. But I am really hoping that I will sell at least a couple of them, otherwise I have to cart them all back home with me.

I am looking forward to both Cons, and they will both be very different experiences. Hopefully they will both give me something to blog about for the next two weeks, too.

And once I've had a chance to catch my breath, it will be time to plan 2014's Con schedule...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

An "EPIC" Announcement

First, let me assure you when I wrote "Family Tradition," I never thought it'd get published. Who'd want to read a twisted little story about an artist painting a model with no face?

When a fellow author asked for feedback on a manuscript she planned to enter in a contest, I offered to exchange critiques, and sent her "Family Tradition." I thought she'd say, "This is crap." That would confirm my suspicions, and the story would die a quick, painless death.

She liked it.

It took some head scratching, but finally I realized maybe I had something. I submitted the story to MuseItUp Publishing, and had editors tell me they loved the story. And four Amazon reviewers raved about it. Apparently, they knew something I didn't.

I decided to put "Family Tradition" to the ultimate test, and entered it in EPIC's EBook Awards competition. Since this was a blind judging, I'd no idea who was reading my entry or if I'd advance to the next round.

Fingers crossed, I waited to hear who the finalists were. The announcement was supposed to come in early October, and I'm not too proud to say I was nervous. I prepared myself for the worst. Was it worth getting my hopes up, only to see them dashed?

A few days ago, I received my answer. "Family Tradition" was a finalist in its category. I got a badge and certificate.

The irony is now I have to wait to see if the short story wins. But I won't know anything until March. Nevertheless, it's a pretty good feeling being able to say I'm a finalist.

Now to get my short script ready for another contest.

For more information on "Family Tradition," click here.
Finalists can be found on the EPIC site

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Winchester Mystery House

I've been wanting to go to the Winchester Mystery House for nearly 30 years - ever since I saw it featured on TV. It was on either "That's Incredible" or "Ripley's Believe it or not", I can't remember which - both featured the bizarre and the strange, and were on TV in the early 1980s when I lived in Canada.

Somehow we never got there on our previous two trips to San Francisco. I was very glad that on our third and recent trip there, we were able to hire a car and get to San Jose to pay a visit to this fascinating house.

Winchester Mystery House, from front left, and gardens
Chances are, you've heard of this place already. It's the house built by Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester rifle fortune. Sarah and her husband had only one child, Annie, who died of a rare childhood disease when she was six weeks old. A few years after that, Sarah's husband died of tuberculosis. Some say she was driven mad with grief, and never got over the death of her baby. Whatever the case, Sarah got it into her head that she was cursed by the vengeful spirits of all of those who had been killed by the Winchester rifles her husband's family had produced, and the only way to break the curse was to buy an unfinished house and keep on building.

She moved from her home in Connecticut and bought an unfinished eight-room farmhouse in California. She hired servants, gardeners, and a crew of carpenters, who kept building. In fact they didn't stop. These carpenters worked in shifts, and the work carried on continuously, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until Sarah's death 38 years later.

It's a bizarre house. It has 160 rooms and 40 bedrooms. There are stairs that go nowhere, doors that open onto blank walls, other doors that lead to two-storey drops, secret passages, rooms with no floors, windows that look out onto brick walls. Sarah Winchester designed most of the house herself.  Some say she built the house the way she did to confuse the spirits. I think she was likely suffering from paranoid schizophrenia - she thought spirits were speaking to her, and the servants were conspiring against her. But she was also stupidly rich, and therefore it didn't matter how mad she was, people would do what she said. Apparently she paid all her staff twice the going rate, but she paid them daily in cash, so that if she had the whim to fire anyone, she could do so on the spot. Arguing with her about her illogical building plans was apparently a cause for instant dismissal.
Me standing at the front of house - note lack of symmetry.

Sarah WInchester was obsessed with the number 13, which is a recurring motif throughout the house. Windows have 13 panes of glass. Ceilings have 13 panels. There is even a chandelier with 13 light fittings. Apparently it originally came with 12, but Sarah wasn't having that and she added the thirteenth herself - and you can tell which one she added, because it's wonky and obviously stuck on.

Naturally there are many stories about the Winchester house being haunted. It does have a decidedly creepy appearance. With so much building work the house is not symmetrical, and viewing it from the outside it looks odd. Inside, there are so many rooms many of them don't have any windows or natural light, so it is rather dark and dim. But we saw it on an exceptionally hot and sunny day - positively balmy for the time of year - and it was full of tourists, so it didn't seem particularly creepy. Then again, I have no psychic sensitivities whatsoever. I'd like to remain open minded about the existence of ghosts, but if there are any, I'm unlikely to ever see any. I don't get easily creeped out. So saying, I rather wish we could have gone at Hallowe'en, when they do a 'ghost tour' by torch light. The place might be a whole lot creepier then.

I did feel rather sorry for Sarah Winchester. She lived alone in this house apart from her staff, and apparently never had visitors - the rest of the family thought she was nuts and stayed away. So she rattled around alone in this immense house, working her way around the 40 bedrooms - never sleeping in the same room more than one night in a row, allegedly to confuse the spirits she was convinced were out to get her.

Outside view of 'door to nowhere' - leads to 15-foot drop
You are not allowed to take pictures inside the Winchester Mystery House, and any that are on the internet are copyright and not able to be used without permission. Which I don't have. So I can only include here pictures of the outside. But a Google search of the Winchester Mystery House will take you to plenty of websites that do include images of some of the bizarre features of the house.

If you are ever in the San Jose area of California, do visit the Winchester Mystery House if you can. It's a fascinating tour. And is the house really full of vengeful ghosts, or was Sarah Winchester as mad as a box of frogs? Well, you'll have to make up your own mind about that.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

BristolCon 2013

This year will see my first attendance at BristolCon, a one-day convention organised by the Bristol Fantasy & SF Society, in its fifth year.

This year's event takes place on Saturday 26 October, and now that the programme has been officially released I am pleased to be able to announce my programme items.  I am going to be quite busy for this one.

I am kicking off at 10:00 am with a panel on innovative deaths.  Lots of scope there for interesting discussion, I am sure.  Between now and then I shall be trying to come up with new and gruesome ways of killing people.  All in the name of research, of course.

At 2:00 pm there will be a mass signing for all authors present, and an opportunity to sell books, and I will be pitching up there with copies of SOUL SCREAMS.  I'll also be happy to sign anything that contains one of my stories, and I'm putting this out as a challenge to try and find who's got the oldest publication.  Has anyone out there got an old copy of PEEPING TOM with my story in?  Or, to go even further back, the October 1989 issue of FEAR?  If anyone brings me one of these to sign I'll give them a free copy of one of my books.

At 4:00 pm I am moderating my first panel - on the pros and cons of small press publishing.  I am really excited about this, as I think it's a perfect topic for me to be moderating, and there are lots of discussion points on this subject to put to the panel.

There are many other fabulous items on the very full programme, and if you are able to get to Bristol for the day do consider coming along - there aren't too many Cons that you can do in their entirety in a day, and the membership for this one is a mere £20.  A bargain for the price.

Britain's most established genre Cons are BFS FantasyCon and EasterCon, but it's reassuring to see a rise in the number of smaller Cons that start out as small local gatherings and gradually get bigger every year.  The UK may be too small to compete with the US for the number of Cons, but there's no doubt that the number of SF/Fantasy/Horror fans in this country is on the rise.  And where fans gather, Cons will happen.  The only down side is there are now so many fantastic Cons, I have to decide each year which ones I'm going to do.  I have neither the leave allocation nor the finances to do all of them.  I wish I could.

If you make it to BristolCon, do seek me out - it would be great to see you (if nothing else, as a reassurance that people do actually read this blog).  In the meantime however, I must dash.  I've got to go and think up some intelligent questions to ask my panel.