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Still completely exhausted after the weekends fun, so please forgive any typing / grammatical errors.

Yes, last Saturday was BristolCon ’11, the culmination of a year of hard work, delicate negotiation, and meetings in pubs. Which meant waking up at 5.30 am mumbling something about tables in the dealers room.  As you do.

Arrived at the hotel still rubbing sleep out of my eyes, trying to locate scissors/sellotape/keys/my bearings, but soon woke up when people began to arrive.  And arrive they did, over two hundred of them, waving their geek flag proudly and ready to have a good time. unfortunately they ALL arrived at ten to ten and the reception desk was swamped, which meant the first two panels of the day were quite sparsely attended – a shame as they were both interesting and well received.  I was on an early panel discussing self-publishing, chaired very capably by Justina Robson and featuring M D Lachlan, Alex Keller, Gareth L Powell, and Dolly Garland on her first ever panel (she performed very well, no hint of nerves!) I had met all the panelists except Mark before, but he turned out to be an affable chap with a great store of anecdotes about publishing.  The panel disagreed about whether everyone who wanted to should write a book, but we all agreed that, whether traditionally or self-published, it’s vital not to skip the essential step between a finished first draft and a final draft – proper and extensive editing is the key!

The second panel I was on was about cover art. I think I might have been there to make up the numbers – I’m interested in cover art but I can’t draw stick people, and I was in the company of Jim Burns, cover artist extraordinaire (Seriously, when we announced Jim as Guest of Honour there was SO much excitement from local artists), Steve Upham who not only writes but publishes, Dolly (again, hard-working girl had done a panel in between too), Jaine Fenn – who confessed she can’t draw either, and Officially the Nicest Man on the Planet, Paul Cornell. Jim and Steve talked about the process they go through when a cover is commissioned, and we talked about trends in cover design, and what makes a good and bad cover. Dolly and I agreed that, as lovers of maps and pointy metal, the original covers for Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy were striking examples of really good modern covers, and we touched on the disturbing practice of “whiting up” books which have non-white protagonists, and how it can alienate even very young readers.

Then I had a couple of hours off, and got to race around the dealers room and chat to a few people, including Terry Martin from Murky Depths and Dave and Ben from Solaris, who were experimenting with selling ebooks at a convention for the first time (apparently it was a great success, so take your flash drive next time you go to a con, because I think that’s going to be much more common in the future).

Jaine Fenn and I shared a second panel in the afternoon, in the other programme room, which was slightly more stuffy and, thankfully, crowded (I did spot a good friend of mine and committee member, who shall remain nameless, nodding off in the front row. I’m going to assume it was because it was warm, not because she was bored 😉 ) This was a possibly slightly controversial panel inspired by Neil Gaiman’s famous “George RR Martin is not your bitch” blog post – apparently there’s a song as well? My knowledge of internet novelty SF songs begins and ends with “Fuck Me Ray Bradbury”.

Anyway, the panel was very skillfully moderated by horror/sf author Wayne Simmons, and included that nice Paul Cornell chap again, Jaine Fenn, me, and Anne Lyle, who I had spoken to on Twitter but not previously met. Anne later did a reading from her forthcoming novel which will be published by Angry Robot in March and it sounds great, can’t wait to get my hands on it!

I’m digressing. Wayne kicked the panel off by asking the audience what they wanted to discuss, which was a nice touch. We talked about rejection, how you can’t take it personally and how, if you want to get anywhere in this writing business, the first thing you need to do is grow the hide of a rhino.  Anne made Jane and I exceedingly jealous with the thin state of her rejection file. And we discussed readers expectations; how not every fantasy writer will go on the be JK Rowling, how writing is not all sitting around swigging gin while your minions peel you grapes, how a close relative of Paul’s thought that when you’re writing comics, they arrive already drawn and all you have to do is fit the words in the speech bubbles (the mind doth boggle!), and how unfair it is that whenever poor GRRM goes online to say “Yay, the Jets scored!” fifty people jump on him and go “wrargh! Why aren’t you writing?” To my mind, the price he has to pay for success seems a little too high.

I was also lucky enough to be present at the launch of Aeon Press’s Transtories, edited by the late Colin Harvey.  Transtories was always meant to be launched at BristolCon, and the launch became a tribute to Colin and his skill as an editor.  Tomas L Martin, Priya Sharma, Sharon Reamer and Rob Rowntree all read extracts from their excellent contributions to the anthology, and I would have read too, but we were sadly pressed for time so I gave up my slot.  I hadn’t read the story since before Colin died, and I would have liked the chance, but I did get to hear Gareth L Powell read from The Recollection again, which is always fun.

I did get to do one reading though, a piece from The Feline Queen, which people seemed to enjoy, and I sold a few copies. One of the highlights of the day was being caught up with in the art room by Kathleen who had been looking for me so I could sign a copy, because I do love signing books and chatting to readers.

After that, with people drifting towards the exit, it was time to start tidying up.  Talis Kimberly had brought her band and they played in the bar, and I managed to catch a lot more of her set than I did last year, before settling back with a coke and watching other people do the quiz.  I couldn’t join in the quiz, because I wrote it, but it was entertaining to hear people cursing and see them sinking their heads into their hands – yes, it was BASTARD hard! I think at one point I actually heard crying 😉

Of course, there had to be a winner, and this year the prizes went to the two geekiest men in the room, Paul Cornell and Tim, the manager of Forbidden Planet in Bristol, making up for the FP team’s humiliating defeat last year – well done guys!

I wish I could have seen more panels. Mike Shevdon’s archery panel and the Battle of the Books seem to have been two real highlights, and I missed the Guest of Honour talks too, but that’s one of the prices you pay for running a convention. I did get to catch up with some of my favourite people, and meet some new people who I hope will also become friends, and I’m intending to go to FantasyCon next year so I can enjoy a con I’m not involved in running, and hopefully see these people again!

If you couldn’t get to Bristolcon, we are hoping to put up podcasts of some of the panels on the website over the next few weeks, so you can at least hear what you missed.  And if it sounds appealing, why not come along next year?