I attended BristolCon 11 on October 22nd, and it was thoroughly enjoyable. It was nice to see plenty of new faces, and some I had met before. A breakdown of the sessions I attended:
When Did Science Become the Bad Guy?
I thoroughly enjoyed this panel, the panelists were excellent, articulate and opinionated, as were the audience. The general themes seemed to be that people were not as interested in science as they once were, science shows were now too glossy with too little substance (and tended to be around the presenter's 'journey' of discovery) and that the educational system had to take a large element of blame.
A lively, interesting discussion, with the moderator Dev Agarwal keeping things ticking along with plenty of humour. The panelists were Eugene Byrne, Simon Breeze, Tim Maughan, Raven Dane and Jonathan Wright.
Guest of Honour - Juliet McKenna
Juliet presented an illustrated talk on 'The Evolution of Magic in Fifteen Books', detailing how she evolved the concept of magic in, well, fifteen books. Juliet was very articulate and had clearly thought out her magic systems with care, bringing into play checks and balances to ensure that magic-users did not rule her world with impunity. Her main focus was on consequence, exploring how the impact of magic on the world and its peoples. Excellent stuff.
The Genesis Panel
The panel was of great interest to me, exploring how novels become 'epic' in nature and scope, particularly as I have just been re-reading Steven Erikson's Malazan ten book series.
The was a fun panel to listen to, the panelists talking about their personal experiences, how their books evolved beyond the single initial book into something bigger (Alistair Reynolds and Philip Reeve). MD Lachlan had a lot to say about book contracts (three to write in a year!); HM Castor and Alex Keller both gave good account of themselves and Cheryl Morgan (mod) kept things going with aplomb.
Guest of Honour - Justina Robson
This session took the form of an interview, with Stephanie Burgis providing the questions. This was a lovely warm session, Justina was an excellent interviewee, and seemed to enjoy herself. We learnt a lot about her and about why she transitioned from the more traditional science fiction of her first three books to the more fantastical science fiction of her Quantum Gravity series.
Tricks and Tools for Writers
I really enjoyed this session, as did the panel. Much of what was said I had heard/read elsewhere, but these hints and tips were beautifully coloured by the authors' personal experiences. Highlights for me were Gareth L Powell advocating the dropping of caffeine from an author's diet and Emma Newman's planning methodogy (using 'agile development' from the software world).
Alistair Reynolds held them altogether as moderator, Wayne Simmons, Anne Lyle and Eugene Byrne were also on hand to provide excellent insight into what they do and how they do it.
I had lunch at this point with Dolly and Michaela, two fellow attendees, so didn't really get to these. I did manage to bag a signed copy of Gareth L Powell's 'The Recollection', which I am very much looking forward to reading.
The Life Cycle of the Author - or - George RR Martin is not your Bitch
Named after a blog post from Neil Gaiman (concerng GRRM taking 7 years to write one of his books and the complaints of fans thereof), this session looked at the life cycle of the author, be it writing, publicising or anything else that came to mind.
In many ways this wasn't the strongest of the panels for me, but it was still very interesting and a whole lot of fun. The internet (twitter/facebook/blog) aspect was touched upon, as was the demands of publicising and getting your message across. Wayne Simmons was moderator; Paul Cornell, Anne Lyle, Jaine Fenn and Joanne Hall were all equally excellent panellists.
Mike Shevdon led a fascinating exploration of archery and archery in fiction. Initially feeling slightly awkward the talk rapidly grabbed the audience's attention. We learnt about the evolution of bows, their variations and even critiqued films and tv shows with archery in them (Buffy - Good!, LoTR - Bad!, Blade Trinity - WTH?!).
Thoroughly enjoyable and an unexpected highlight for me.
Guest of Honour - Keith Blount
Keith Blount is the chap who put together the excellent Scrivener writing software. Unfortunately this was the least well attended session I had been to, which may have been due to the timing and subject matter. What was a talk turned into a hints/tips/answers session which was really useful and opened my eyes to the bits of Scrivener I hadn't yet explored. It was nice to meet Keith and thank him for the now imminent Windows/Linux version.
At this point I bailed, spending a little time in the bar discussing the day, writing and other stuff with the afore-mentioned Dolly and Michaela.
Other highlights (and I think these are a superb idea) were catching various authors at their readings. Juliet McKenna was polished, Paul Cornell was oddly nervous (I loved the story!), Justina Robson was relaxed (her reading was superb) and Wayne Simmons reading was so good I went and bought his two books that week.
Kaffeeklatches were held with the various authors, which I wanted to take advantage of but was otherwise too distracted. The feedback from fellow attendees was that these were excellent, and I will endeavour to do one next year.
I have had some lovely conversations since on Twitter with Joanne Hall, Emma Newman, Tim Maughan, Mike Shevdon and Harriet Castor - thanks all, lovely bantering/talking with you - which just shows that one of the great strengths of this event is the people who attend.
It was lovely to see BristolCon expand in ambition, profile and attendance this year. It felt more polished and organised than last year, despite the the potential disruption of the new dual stream programme. Joanne Hall, MEG and the rest of the crew have much to be proud of, it was an excellent convention, a great fun and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.
Roll on next year!