I’ve got a bunch of stuff I’d like to write about, if I get the time. But I’m making time to write this quick report on the Black Library Weekender, 2013. If you can’t be bothered to read the rest of this post, here’s the short version: It was a lot of fun.
Although I think the format was new to a good number of attendees, the event was very much in the mould of a traditional science fiction convention – panels, seminars, and late nights in the bar. It ran from Saturday to Sunday, but I was also present for the “Golden Ticket” day on Friday, where a limited number of would-be authors brought along a 1000 word short story, and spent the day working on it, listening to the likes of me burble on incoherently about being a writer (sorry about that, one of the drawbacks of being a writer is that you spend so much time on your own you forget how to speak properly), and attending writing seminars. A full day of work, for both authors and attendees.
I failed to realise that those who bought a Golden Ticket were getting a fully-fledged, full-day writing workshop about precisely the kind of writing they were interested in, from the publisher who publishes it. That kind of friendly, critical environment is absolutely invaluable to developing yourself as a writer. My expectations were confounded by the quality of the writing on show. I honestly didn’t expect it to be that good. Quite a lot of amateur writing is very horrible, and a lot of it is committed to paper by people who are utterly convinced of its (utterly absent) merits. They may become aggressive if you are not in agreement. The Golden Ticket holders were good writers, and all receptive to criticism. Many of them will be published. If I’d thought about this, I would have figured out that people who pay to go on writing workshops are generally those who are serious about writing, and can cope with a workshop environment. I saw some impressive talent there.
If you read this blog often, you’ll know I never fail to bring up the money side of things (come on, we’re all on a quest for financial security). As much as I enjoy them, it’s a knotty decision whether or not to go to an event. BL pay my expenses. Most others won’t cover the cost for the likes of me, and so I cannot afford to go at all. Nevertheless, although I don’t spend much, I don’t get any actual money to go there. You have to take this in your stride these days, as it is broadly expected. But, as my wife is now a freelance lawyer and works a lot at the weekend, when I go away neither of us can work (the kid, you see). Much fretting ensues when an invite arrives.
Why do I go then? Simple: events, but especially conventions, remain the single best way to build your profile as a science fiction author. I advise any writer to attend them. One hundred people might read this blog, at BL Live I met 200 people, all of whom had at least a passing interest in my books, and I had an extended period to convince them of my merits as a human being. Blog writing cannot compare, at least at this point in time. I suppose it’s the contrast between potential audience and an actual audience. You can’t better meeting face to face the people who read your books. As a plus, a bit of praise is the best tonic for sensitive writerly egos, and praise there was in abundance for all those scribblers in attendance.
There’s a second reason: Paying it forward. Many famous SF authors have proselytised this creed, not least among them Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein. It works like this: When I was younger, I met a lot of writers at conventions (and interviews, but I was very lucky there). They gave me advice for nothing, and with a smile. Many of them were in exactly the same position I am in now. Now I’m a writer, it is my turn to do the same for the next generation of writers. Those who advised me received nothing but thanks, I will receive the same for helping you, but we are all enriched for it. If a writer tells you something useful, and you get published, pay it forward. Because of this wealth of easily accessible and gladly shared knowledge, I also can’t recommend conventions enough to those of you who want to write.
I’m sure others will write about the feverish excitement of Pitch Factor, or the Kafka-esque Warhammer panel quiz Christian Dunn concocted and in which I took part, or about the beautiful new book editions available for sale, and all the announcements and insights given. I’ll leave it at these personal thoughts, and end on this: Unlike earlier trips to suchlike, I went to bed at a respectable hour, and relatively sober. In a drinking culture, wisdom can be defined thusly: saying no to that last drink. Life runs smoother without a hangover.