Although I am a big fan of using public transport (second only to using my bike) my nose twitched in repulsion when I leapt aboard the Holyhead to Crewe train early yesterday morning. I had to clear the seat of empty beer cans and mostly-empty food packs to make room for me and Stephen King. Yes, my embarrassment, measured by stuttered apologies to the great man, was intensified by the stale warm air from the previous occupants. Luckily SK was only there by proxy. I’d taken his non-fiction autobio, On Writing, on the train for a re-read. He refers to writing as a form of telepathy where, for example, if I refer to a pink elephant – bingo, you can’t help yourself having that image in your head even though I am miles away. I was re-reading On Writing to check that his history of drug abuse, alcoholism and childhood struggles was couched in language that would be appropriate for teens to whom I speak this week as a guest speaker. Not that I’m reading it out loud but recommending it as both an inspiration and a how-to book for aspiring writers. It’s brilliant for that and an exemplar to how books can flow even when reading it on a smelly hot railway carriage.
Luckily, the next stage of the journey gave me a much cleaner train from Crewe to Derby, and pleasant it was chatting to Terry J, our leader at the BSFA writing critique Orbiters group. We headed for the AltFiction sci fi and fantasy conference, hungry to hear from heroes such as Harry Harrison, Iain Banks, Peter Carey and so many more. Also we planned to meet with 3 other Orbiters. We had photos of James B and Ian W but had no idea as to what Emma looked like. What a shame; it meant I had no choice but to go up to each woman and stare at her chest. That’s where our ID badges were mostly pinned. But by the time the first session started we’d drawn a blank although I’d collected a few names and phone numbers (kidding). I had gathered a few friends who’d recognised me from previous cons – great.
And what did we find out? In a nut shell: horror and the paranormal is on the way up; sci fi post Dr Who may resurge; some indication of marketing of our books is traveling over here from the US and so we should too – gulp; the first page of our manuscript has to WOW! agents and publishers if we want to be that 1 in 2000 unknown aspiring author to have more pages read; many sci fi stories are formula-led, but it doesn’t matter too much since readers like that as long as it is well-written and there are a few shocks en route; the trend for sci fi male writers to be bald, a hint of a goatee, and a black T-shirt remains in vogue. Female sci fi / fantasy writers tend to dress more interestingly and through the complete gamut of Top Shop, Next and Vampires R Us.
I didn’t participate in the workshops this time. I have an aversion to being told what topic to be inspired by – I have more of my own ideas than I’ll live long enough to write, and I intend to live sooooo long. During a break, I grabbed a coffee and rifled through the books on sale, and littered a few adverts for the Escape Velocity magazine Robert Blevins and I are producing this year. Tired, I asked a young woman if I could share her table – yes, bingo – it was Emma, our missing Orbiter! So introductions all round and we were one.