Since the end of the Worldcon, it's occurred to me that my purpose in life is not so much to be a science fiction writer as to provide light comedy relief at science fiction conventions.
This particularly came to mind on the last day of the convention. John Berlyne - the UK Editor for the SFRevu website - had spent most of the weekend trying to organise the filming of a documentary about sf writers and fans, working in conjunction with a chap named Russell.
Now, by Monday early afternoon, I'd gone several days without adequate sleep, particularly worsened by the fact my convention effectively started a day early with the Nova Scotia launch at Borders on the Wednesday evening.Myself, Mike Cobley, Deborah Miller and Hal Duncan all got squeezed round one side of a dinner table in a restaurant while four people point a camera at us. Which is about the point I started sneezing uncontrollably.
At first it was just the occasional sniff. Then it became a sonic deluge of honks, snorts, sneezes, coughs and splutters, with the added visual effect of increasingly bleary eyes and a lump of paper handkerchief gripped in one hand. By the end of the interview - and my mind was so gone by this point I have serious trouble adequately recalling what I did say - I was a wreck. All I could see were the vaguely horrified expressions of John and his colleagues as I almost literally dissolved before their eyes.
Well, in retrospect, if I'd been able to think more clearly I'd have bowed out and let the other three get on with it, but so it goes. Sorry, Russell. Sorry, John. With any luck you'll be able to salvage at least twenty seconds of usable footage out of, what, forty-five minutes of filming?
Concerning the documentary: John and Russell are doing the documentary 'on spec', meaning they're not under contract - they're just hoping someone will take it on board at some later date, which I vaguely recollect is often the case with such things. Things I learned: John told me the SFRevu site gets not far off half a million hits a month. I don't know if that's sheerest hyperbole or not, but to me it's very impressive if true. It also makes me wonder what kind of hit rate sites like Sci Fiction get... Anyway, here's a quick breakdown of how things went, day by day:
(Nova Scotia launch)
Things really kicked off a day early with the launch of the Nova Scotia anthology on the Wednesday: it went pretty well, I think, and most people headed off for the Counting House afterwards. There were certainly a lot of people there.
(First day of the Con)
I think it was round about this point I knew there was no way in hell we were going to manage a line-up of the whole writer's circle in front of the SECC, and I was right. I managed to get a few photos, but nothing definitive, as it were.
Plus, I was the first thing on, pretty much: a reading at midday, which went not too badly (at least, I think it didn't) considering I only start functioning around this point most days. It didn't help I didn't really prepare for this, either, so I was kind of jamming/flying by ear on this one. But people tell me it went well enough.
I ran into a lot of people, with particular mention going to Eric Schaler, John Scalzi, Rick Kleffel, Al Reynolds, Ria Cheyne, Jeff Ford, etc, etc, etc.
My first real panel, as opposed to the reading the morning before, on scottish writers: apart from myself, there were Richard Morgan, Mike Cobley, Neil Williamson, and Jack Deighton. They argued for the case that there's a recognisable body of scottish sf writing, at least in the cultural sense, and that this is often exemplified by space opera.
I disagreed - rather strongly - pointing out that when you have several men, all from roughly similar socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, they're inevitably going to wind up thinking what they're into somehow represents what's going on in science fiction writing in Scotland. I have my serious doubts that's the case. Later that afternoon, myself, Jay Caselberg (moderating), Keith Brooke, and Martin Sketchley (I think) were on a panel together. Unfortunately, given the late nights that are part and parcel of conventions, what you had were very four tired men saying 'I think ...' and then forgetting what they were about to say. I was the worst. Jay turns to me at one point and says "So Gary. Summing up." To which I look around with an expression that seems to say 'where am I?'
So it goes. The panel was on 'blowing worlds up: the pleasures of destruction', which is pretty vague, so we covered everything from Greg Bear's The Forge of God to JG Ballard's disaster novels, and the idea that the pleasure of destruction of worlds is really about (or so I argued) the innate fear of change, and how this is reflected (as others have noted) in sf's ability to embrace overwhelming change (where 'mainstream' novels, it's been argued, tend to reject it by defeating the agents of change and returning the status quo. Basically any Michael Crichton novel).
OK: so my first ever panel done and dusted. Next up that evening was the Tor UK do at Borders, which went exceedingly well. As I've said before, one of the things that bugged me was the complete lack of any of my books at the convention, despite my second book coming out a couple of weeks ago. Well, I worked out why last night. Like I said before, I don't know the circumstances, but the review copies of Against Gravity went out late. In order to make sure it got reviewed by the magazines, the official release date was moved back a month, despite the fact it was already on sale on the internet and in the bookshops. Because the release date was moved back, it turns out those book dealers who wanted to sell the book at the convention were told by their suppliers the book wasn't available yet ...
(Through gritted teeth) So. It. Goes.
Meanwhile, copies of Nova Scotia are flying - flying - off the tables. Anyway. Hal got truly and completely smashed (one particularly recalls him bellowing 'I want the finest wines in the house!' across the basement music department). I spent a lot of time chatting to my agent Dorothy Lumley and, of course, my editor Peter Lavery. One good point about this is there were nearly eighty copies of Against Gravity there, about half of which I signed. After
all this, there was a Gollancz party at a club round the corner called Tiger, Tiger. Headed there, along with a good few of the Glasgow contingent, a couple of people from London (hi Gaie, hi Sarah), and MJ, who turned up and effectively became Hal's minder for the night (which mainly involved preventing him from stumbling in front of fast-moving traffic).
I could tell you about how a friend of a well-known writer nearly punched out someone in the industry, but professionalism prevents me. Oh well. Unfortunately, a certain laxity in terms of checking who was going in and out of various industry parties meant one or two people simply wandered in who had nothing to do with the convention. One woman, in particular, was clearly several glass panes short of a greenhouse. At some point, my inner fanboy came out while talking to David Pringle. Who can blame me?The entire first two floors of the Hilton were given over to party space.
The SECC got very quiet after seven or so, and everyone moved on to the Hilton. Good stuff. Lots of people. A Klingon in a kilt, about which I shall say no more. As others have noted - it may have been Ken MacLeod - far less people in silly costumes than in previous years. Naturally, the press showed an unerring ability to zero in on these people as somehow representative of what was otherwise a remarkably sober and industry-oriented affair.
As you'll have noticed, I wasn't really going to that many panel items, although I've heard really good things about most of them. I think this might be at least in part because the kind of discussions that go on in panels tend to make up a not insubstantial part of my average Saturday night out.
Also, I view conventions as primarily social events with a vast opportunity to meet'n'greet. I enjoy panels, but I always find myself wondering who I could be chatting to I otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to chat to for another year or so. I turned up for a Tor UK presentation at ten in the morning, in time for some Nazi in a suit to tell me hot drinks (my coffee from the concourse coffee shop) weren't allowed inside the seminar rooms. Almost certainly blatant rubbish, but I only had the energy to argue with him for a minute or so. I ended up leaving itsitting outside the door: to my surprise, it was still warm an hour later when I re-emerged.
One of the things that stood out was Cecilia Dart-Thornton's presentation around her fantasy book The Iron Tree. Whatever Tor are paying her, it's got to be good, because
she paid the company behind the game Myst to create fully interactive 3D programmed environments based on her books. There were a series of long - perhaps too long - presentations on these. I seem to recall it's possible to get these environments on disk, bundled with one of her books. I think. I think there were publisher parties that night, but I skipped them, already feeling like a zombie. Hit the parties at the Hilton, of course, until the early hours. More Klingons in kilts.
Well, one anyway.
At some point I caught Hal doing a reading from Vellum. He started howling when he got to the Iggy Pop bit, which sort of rattled on the eardrums a bit.
Yeah, the Hugos ... got to be honest, I skipped them. An awards ceremony is an awards ceremony. To be honest I regret missing them now, but at the time I was beyond shattered. (On the Monday, in the dealer's room while talking to Mike Cobley, we ran into Charlie Stross, who'd won a Hugo the previous night. He had this glassy-eyed, thousand yard stare about him. The kind of look I imagine I'd have on my face if someone told me I'd won a Hugo.)
Another panel in the afternoon, which I almost forgot I was meant to be on, on breaking into writing. This one went pretty well, actually. Simon Green - author of the Deathstalker books - had a lot to say. His story on writing the novelisation of Prince of Thieves was particularly amusing (apparently the script he was given to work from was particularly appalling. The movie makers had decided that, being set in Britain, the characters would sound more authentic if they said 'bollocks' a lot. The movie novelisation industry being what it is, and the book being written under such a tight deadline, apparently it went to print straight from the word processor to the typesetting machines with only a brief stop at the spellchecker which, unfortunately, turned every occurrence of 'bollocks' into 'bullocks'. And it still made the New York bestseller lists.)
The panel went so well, at the end a member of the audience said it was the best panel of its type they'd been to at a convention. Well, maybe they hadn't been to so many conventions ... we also covered issues like book doctoring, which led on to why outside of a very few trustworthy agencies like John Jarrold's, you should never, ever pay money to companies to publish your work. Money, as they say, flows towards the author, not away. Unfortunately, at least one member of the audience had, it turned out, paid money to put out their work. I don't think anybody had the heart to tell them they'd almost certainly made a big mistake.
I think it was that evening I wound up going to Mother India with pretty much the entire T-Party writer's group from London. Or was it the Saturday? Arse. Can't remember.
Occasional glimpses of Hal going this way and that, usually with some kind of doppler-effect ...aaaaaAAAAAAaaaa... thing going in as he receded once more into the distance.
Sunday night led to the best full-on industry party of the week: Orbit's thirtieth anniversary bash at the Arches nightclub in the city centre. This is a movie-maker's idea of what a publishing industry party would be like. One of Glasgow's trendiest clubs and exhibition spaces, stuffed with agents, writers, editors, critics, and me. I managed to blag a couple of friends in with me as well which, to be honest, was pretty easy. Well, okay, we walked in. That's how easy.
Managed to say hello to a quietly bemused John Scalzi and myself and Andrew Wilson, co-editor of the aforementioned Nova Scotia, managed to press a copy of the aforementioned anthology into Mr Scalzi's hands. This is a good thing, because Scalzi gets a lot of hits on his site, and there's precedent in the fact Scalzi has also sent out copies of his own books for similar promotional reasons to other people who blog. I seem to recall John Scalzi's website gets something like several thousand hits every week or so, which to me is an astonishing figure.
Then the Hugos, which I sat out in the Moathouse chatting to people, after having dinner with an old friend from London I hadn't seen in a long time. Then the inevitable sojourn to the Hilton again, which was interesting: mostly in good ways, but as happens at these things, I did fall out with someone - for very good reasons, from my point of view. So it goes. And then Monday, and the horrible realisation I had to go back to the real world, including the hilarious 'sneezing interview' episode.
I'd thought about hanging around for the dead dog party, but I skipped it and instead opted to go home and collapse in terminal body shock and enjoy a really stinking cold which kept me horizontal until the next afternoon.
Photos in order: me and Al at the Tor UK do on the Friday: authors read from Nova Scotia at the Wednesday launch: Jim Campbell, Hal Duncan, Gary Couzens at the Nova Scotia launch: preparing for my reading on the Thursday afternoon (thanks Lori!): another photo from the Nova Scotia launch, Paul Cockburn of GSFWC to fore: Hal Duncan and Mike Cobley of GSFWC sign books in the dealer's hall: the Scottish SF panel: Deborah Miller in the concourse: Gavin Inglis, Andrew J. Wilson and John Jarrold chat in the Hilton: and Mike Cobley comes out of the newspaper shop.