Over the course of my days on this Earth, I’ve seen a few episodes of Dr Who but it wasn’t part of my science fiction heritage growing up. That said, I’m familiar with some of the basics and I’ve always been taken with the idea of the TARDIS.
While the TARDIS is a masterpiece of engineering and design, my focus here in on a particular aspect of the TARDIS, namely that it’s much larger on the inside than it appears from the outside. There are structurally similar ideas elsewhere. For instance, there is the bag of holding in Dungeons and Dragons, and the different manifestations of the portable hole.
But the idea of the inverse TARDIS effect first came to my attention some years ago, when I was moving from a smaller office in the Maths Tower to a larger room, and I found it difficult to fit into the larger office, everything that had fit reasonably well in the smaller office.
On a rational level, I have a clear idea of what might have happened. Perhaps I had more shelves in the old office and perhaps I had more cabinets. But regardless, in conversation with colleagues, they also expressed some experience with this effect as well.
But I think the inverse TARDIS effect is much broader than just its application to physical space, whether offices or moving house. It also applies to time.
Again, there is I think a rational explanation. When I was in a major administrative role, the small moments in the day, 15 minutes here or half an hour there, were exceptionally valuable, and I had to make good use of them. But now, out of that role, there isn’t the same external pressure to make best use of those small pieces of time through the day. For me, the external pressure made it easier to focus, and it’s been a relearning process to get myself back to the point of using those small pieces of time well.
Anecdotally, colleagues have mentioned that retirement can be similar. I suspect, fueled by a lack of personal experience, that this might be similar to the previous example; fewer constraints on time allow for the other activities to expand to fill the available time, no matter how much time there is available.
And this then raises the question, which only occurred to me as I was writing this, of the extent to which the inverse TARDIS effect is related to Parkinson’s law, that work expands to fill the available time. But that I think is a question for another day.
Professor James W Anderson is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Southampton. Beyond mathematics, he practices the traditional Japanese martial art of aikido and writes science fiction and fantasy. He insists his role on the Milford committee is as Most Egregious Token Male.
Getting into Milford was a dream. I still can’t fit my excitement into words. I remember applying after I found out Suyi Davies had attended in the past. I initially didn’t think I could get in, but seeing another Nigerian on that blog post was the push I needed. I also never thought I’d make it to the United Kingdom. There were too many stories of the setbacks Nigerians and Africans at large faced in a bid to travel across borders, and I was resigned to my looming fate. When the visa came, it was a mixture of feelings. Things were starting to fall into place, but things were also starting to get real. Only then did it truly register — I was going to Milford.
So I packed my stuff, boarded my first flight to London, and then hitched a ride to Wales. I drove down with Fiona, Dolly, and Mike. They were the most excellent company, and the trip was serene—though I slept through most of it. The jetlag was still taking its toll. We eventually got to Trigonos, and the nerves kicked in. In a foreign country, surrounded by new people, I could sparsely breathe. This would also be my first time in a space filled with more than a dozen writers. But from the very first person who welcomed me, there was this warmth and a super welcoming atmosphere. An atmosphere that said, “You belong here.”
And not only did I belong, for that one week, Milford was also home. Writing this, I remember it all so vividly. The food was new, but a cascade of flavor. The squash, the chocolate cake, the oat milk, the berries, the coffee, and the biscuits—which made me feel like I was in a British sitcom. I remember the evenings in the library where we had wine and laughed and the stories would fill up every inch of the room. Jacey wrote down all the stuff that was too hilariously precious to let go. Space Jesus comes to mind. I can still see Mike sitting on the floor like some monk moonlighting as a mathematics professor.
The evenings in the library usually went on late into the night and saw us scurrying off to bed a little tipsy. I remember the room where I slept. It was freezing the first night and I didn’t say anything ‘cause I assumed everyone in Wales just slept in the biting cold. Coming from the tropics where heaters are a non-existent thing, the one right in the room didn’t occur to me. I eventually figured it out, and I remember the coziness, the incredibly soft bed, and the bathroom gel that smelled of lost memories.
The critique sessions kicked off right away, and they were just great. You get to witness this wealth of knowledge, skill, and experience. There was an air of sincerity and kindness in which everyone approached each other’s stories, and it was just wonderful to see. I will eternally be grateful for all the wholesome and encouraging words. There was also chocolate. Loads and loads of it. I might have had a few bites too much, and I’d eat all over again if I got the chance. After my stories got critiqued and I went back to the notes, I just went, “Woah, thanks for all the free feedback. People pay money for this”. Incorporating the suggestions and pointers had my stories coming out better and stronger.
The crit sessions came to an end on Friday, leaving me with ample time to just lay around. It was in this idleness that Ramya reminded me she’d jumped in the lake on a random night. Many people don’t know this, but I have a penchant for getting into the most chaotic situations. So, come midnight, I threw a blanket over myself and headed down to the lake. It was dark. Frighteningly dark. I badgered on, through the field, and down to the water. There, I took off all my clothes, the cold breeze finding all the corners of my body, and slid into the waters. That was when the panic and sense of self-preservation kicked in. Looking at the lake was different from being in it. It was the large immersing thing and then there was me—a boy who couldn’t swim. I was properly terrified. I flailed out of the water, splashing and wheezing. As I raced back across the field, freezing my butt off, it occurred to me, what if I had been taken by wolves or fairies? Poor Jacey and Liz would have to travel down to Nigeria to inform my parents. I honestly didn’t think the whole thing through.
Okay, rounding it up, to everyone who wants to experience the beauty, warmth, friendship, and wealth of knowledge that Milford offers, take out your phone, or laptop, or scroll, whatever works for you, and pen down that application. Believe me, it’ll be infinitely worth it. And there’s this tradition thingy Liz did at the end. I can’t share it ‘cause it’s supposed to be a secret, but it was the most beautiful thing. Honestly, words can’t appropriately describe it, you just have to experience it. The only downside to Milford is that you might spend the rest of your life daydreaming and wanting nothing more than to go back. I miss everyone terribly, and it broke my heart to leave. For the record, I’m bawling out my eyes at this point. Oh, I can’t wait to tell my kids—whom I don’t have yet—about Milford.
Milford wasn’t just a place or a gathering. It was a feeling. I want to exist in that feeling forever.
So here’s a strange idea that’s been kicking around inside my head for a long time now, that I’ve never done anything with. I’m also not sure of just what would be the best way of testing it, but here it is for what it’s worth.
At least in Europe, and I suppose in other parts of the world, we have legends of giants and ogres, trolls and goblins, hobgoblins and other unpleasant lurkers in the dark, stealing our children and grinding their bones to make our bread, et cetera. We also are beginning to discover the extent to which modern humans such as our ancestors geographically cohabited with other branches of our recent family tree, such as Neanderthal man. So could it be that these legends and stories are the warped cultural memory of the time when we so cohabited? It wasn’t all that long ago, perhaps 10 000 years or so, and so it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that we have some lurking distant memory of those times.
This is the sort of idea I like, I have to admit, digging into the past and trying to discover the origin of our old stories. Could Enkidu, the wild man companion of Gilgamesh, have been a Neanderthal? Part of the intrigue for me is the likelihood that we’ll never know, that this is a piece of knowledge that has been completely lost, because we have no good way of capturing or reconstructing a history that is primarily oral.
So what are some ways that we could test this idea. One way would be, if we were to have a good record of where the stories of giants, ogres, trolls, et cetera, were common in folklore, to see what the correlations were with the geographical regions in which we cohabited. But I’m not sure that such a record still exists or whether it’s even possible to reconstruct one, given the extent to the cultural communication that results from television, movies, books, and other ways of transporting stories from one place to another.
Another possibility is to find a region where humans had lived for a long time, tens of thousands of years, and where there exists no evidence of such geographical cohabitation. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that such places exist. Even the Americas wouldn’t be possible, because we may have cohabited with Neanderthal and other early humans before coming across the bridge into the new world. I also have to admit to being lazy and never digging to see what stories of giants, et cetera, are contained in the mythologies of the Americas.
So, to close on this grey and overcast Sunday morning, I have a request. If you have any ideas of how this might be tested, or you happen to know of any serious work that’s been done on this question, please do let me know. Because I’m curious.
Professor James W Anderson is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Southampton. Beyond mathematics, he practices the traditional Japanese martial art of aikido and writes science fiction and fantasy. He insists his role on the Milford committee is as Most Egregious Token Male.
In September we went to Milford SFF Conference in Nantlle, North Wales – a week of critiques, writing, hanging out with other writers, and cake. Trigonos, the place we stayed, nestled in the foothills of Snowdonia, is determined we need never go more than three hours without something to eat. Vis:
8 am -Breakfast 11 am – Tea and biscuits 1 pm – Lunch 4 pm – Tea and cake 7 pm – Supper
This year Milford felt special. Perhaps it was because it was my first real big step outside of my lockdown life since Covid and my own illness, but I think the real reason was the company. Of the fourteen people, I already knew some beforehand, Liz, Jim, Dolly, and Jacey, and it was wonderful to see them again after a few years away. There were new people too, including visitors from the USA, and Nigeria. The week passed quickly, I was free to write in the mornings, the critiques took up the afternoons and could be tiring. In the evening we chewed the fat, relaxed, and told stories. Some of them were true. Good days, well-spent.
Everyone has a degree of writing experience (it’s one of the entry rules for Milford that you should have had at least one piece published), and this year the work everyone brought was good and interesting, rich with thought and imagination. That’s not to say everything was perfect. Every piece critiqued was a work in progress, the author often having explicit concerns about plot, pace, character, tension, and so on, or sometimes because they had pushed themselves boldly into unfamiliar writing territory and worried whether it simply worked at all. Everyone was committed to their craft, wanting to improve, open to advice and suggestions, and free with their own ideas.
As always, I came away wanting more, and also re-energised. That energy is consistently Milford’s final gift. On that last day I was sorry to leave, and also glad to head home. There was much I wanted, and needed, to do.
One thing about going away is that it lets you look on your own life from a distance. It occurred to me after I had been home for a few days that life is a multitude of journeys, all happening at once, all taking you along different paths, different directions. Maybe each of those paths is a story, but I haven’t properly thought that idea through. Some of those journeys are our own choice, with others we have little control.
I liked the idea of me out on all those journeys, it felt quite pleasing.
I decided I would no longer be scared of the future.
No Fear. Wish me luck.
David Gullen is a two-times winner of the British Fantasy Society Short Story competition, his work has appeared in The Best of British SF 2020, and 2021, with other work short-listed for the James White Award and placed in the Aeon Award. David was born in Africa and baptised by King Neptune He has lived in England most of his life and been telling stories for as long as he can remember. He currently lives behind several tree ferns in South London with his wife, fantasy writer Gaie Sebold, and the nicest cat you ever did see. Find out more at www.davidgullen.com.
The Milford Science Fiction Writers Conference met earlier this year in September. Over the years, I’ve attended several, all of them at Trigonos, our current home, and I’ve been thinking about some of the spaces there.
There are spaces in my life to which I attach particular meaning, arising from the interactions I have with others in those spaces. There is of course home and family, warm fires burning on cold evenings, celebrations and sad moments.
But there are others. I teach, and though I teach in different rooms each semester, and different rooms indeed over the course of a week, I feel almost a presence when I walk into the room. I am there for a particular purpose, to teach, to be the guide for others who have decided to explore ground that I’ve been mapping for years.
In my practice of aikido, the dojo has a particular resonance, again because it is a space in which we gather to undertake that activity. This applies to my home dojo where I started 25 years ago, and the dojos at summer school, and even visiting a dojo in a city I’m visiting for the first time.
There are rooms at Trigonos that have that resonance. There is the dining room, where we gather for breakfast, lunch and dinner, morning biscuits and cake o’clock in the afternoons. There are few things as entertaining as working through the subtle details of a zombie apocalypse over hard boiled eggs and home made bread.
There is the library, where we gather in the evenings, where conversations can take random fractal walks through the brains of writers. One of the highlights from the most recent Milford was a surprisingly long digression on unexpected noises that caused more laughter than might have been expected.
And there is the main meeting room, where we sit and work through the stories, expressing our views on the pieces the others have submitted, letting the flow of ideas, characters, plots and settings wash over us. And I am constantly amazed at the breadth of views that some fixed set of words can provoke.
So roll on Milford. I’m already looking forward to the next time I drive down that twisty road under the looming piles of slate slag, turn into the gravel lot, and walk through the front door, the gate into these special spaces.
The weeks leading up to the Milford conference did not bode well. A whole bevy of train strikes and rail line cancellations meant some very frantic and desperate emails begging any stranger who would have me for a ride to Trigonos. The weather looked wet and miserable. And then to top it all off, a very powerful, rich, famous old lady died a few days before the conference began. All in all, an ominous lead-up.
I’d already been worried about the conference. I had agonised about applying for a bursary place – would I get it? Was my writing speculative enough for Milford? Was my writing good enough for Milford? Was I good enough???
I was momentarily thrilled when I was offered a place – and then I started worrying all over again. Would I fit in? Would the other writers be nice? Was my writing speculative enough? Was I good enough?!
But my enjoyment of the week was in direct proportion to how much I’d worried. Milford regular and Most Egregious Token Male (official committee title) offered me a ride to the conference. Everyone I met there was wonderfully nice, ridiculously interesting and genuinely a pleasure to drink copious amounts of alcohol and shoot the shit with. The other writers were knowledgeable, their feedback given with much thought and care and there was a sense of egalitarian community and mutual helping out. I think the committee members, especially Liz and Jacey, purposefully and intentionally work towards a welcoming, open atmosphere and it really pays off. By the end of the week, you couldn’t tell who were the regulars and who were Milford first-timers.
The week was structured, the day broken up by multiple opportunities to eat and lots of free time to do your own thing. Breakfast, elevenses (homemade biscuits and tea/coffee), lunch, then the crit sessions, followed by homemade cake and tea/coffee, and then dinner. We rounded off the evening with drinking and talking in the library. The feedback or ‘crit’ sessions took place after lunch and was usually finished by cake time – and if they weren’t, we’d break for cake time before returning to finish the last piece. I’d got most of the reading done at home (which I would strongly recommend) so most of the day for me was spent walking in the Trigonos grounds, Snowdon in the background, the lake twinkling beatifically or walking down to Dorothea Quarry (also called Mordor by Milford regulars) to explore among decomposing slate houses and rusting quarry machinery. One memorable night saw me going for a nighttime, moonlit lake dip which was well worth the skinned and bruised knee.
So, having agonised about this all, what advice do I have for you? Well buckle in, here’s a list:
1) Just do it. Stop hemming and hawing, stop chewing your lip/pen/fingers and apply. If you’re Milford qualified (which means you’ve sold at least one speculative short story or novel), then book your place. If you’re Milford qualified and a writer of colour, apply for the bursary. Do it, do it, do it. It’s a fairly easy process and you have no reason not to. It’s so worth it.
2) Do the reading before you turn up so you can make full use of the lakeside walks, Modor, cake time and chat time.
3) Bring inside shoes. You’ll appreciate having something comfy and not covered in rabbit poo.
4) You don’ttechnically need to bring any extra food. Trigonos feed you four times a day, are very good at accommodating dietary requirements and there are always chocolates during the crit sessions. If you really want to bring something to eat, bring something savoury.
5) If you don’t drink alcohol, I’d recommend bringing your virgin tipple of choice. There’s no chance of running out of alcohol in the evenings but the delicious Trigonos-made cordials are usually put away by then and you might want something to choke on as the conversations get funnier and more surreal.
6) Write down every book every person mentions. They will all sound interesting and you will forget every single one when you get back home.
7) Just do it.
My normal life is a series of to-do lists and post-it notes. I didn’t realise how relaxed and centred I’d felt at Trigonos until I got back home. It’s probably the beautiful scenery, Snowdon winking in the background, and the long countryside walks. Or being really well fed on homegrown, home-cooked food. Or just spending the evenings ‘being’, talking with wonderful people and getting to enjoy life and company. Milford was so good for my mental health and that has only been good for my writing, too.
All in all, it was the week of writerly dreams. I got back home buoyed and encouraged about my work in progress and disappointed that this couldn’t be my life forever. If only there was a tiny bubble planet where 15 writers could walk in the shadow of mountains, eat tomatoes, drink wine and laugh about Space Jesus forever…
Getting world-building ‘right’ seems to be a fascination with many writers. Panels at cons, podcasts, and blogs on this subject are ever-popular and seem to loom large compared to those on character, plot, tension, pace, and all the other things that come together to make a good story.
I wonder if this demand is because people think if they get world-building right everything else will fall into place. To a degree I think that’s a good argument. A well-realised environment – by which I mean society, technology, history, geography and so on, all according to the needs of your current work – all help limit plot and character arc to what is possible within that world. Until it doesn’t. Or maybe it’s that some writers think they have more of a handle on everything else. Let me know.
From this perspective you could say a story has three main ingredients: world, character, and plot (though I might argue over beers that none of these actually exist, they are just summoned by the writer into the mind of the reader so they feel as if they are real. No matter.) Each one affects the other two, constraining or directing the way the tale unfolds. As with an artist at their easel, a limited palette in writing is often of great benefit.
1. Word Building needs Breadth and Depth
One of the things I like about writing in SFF and adjacent genres is you get to make everything up. It’s also one of the hard things, because you have to make everything up. Depending on the scale of the story this may include geography, civilization(s), climate, religion(s), architecture, languages, history, and more.
I’ve read more than one story where it feels like the characters are walking through some kind of studio set and you could step off the path and bang your hand on the backdrop, no matter how beautifully it may be painted. How do you avoid that?
My best tip for worldbuilding is that you must write your characters as if they live in their own world. If you do nothing else, do that. Nothing about their everyday world should be extraordinary to them, and therefore they won’t necessarily comment. You, on the other hand can describe them going about their lives. Fishermen go fishing for girl-faced lobster, and hand fish. Back in town people buy them off the boat or in the market, take them home and cook them up. It’s not unusual for them, but for us the names of those sea creatures hopefully bring a picture with them, and a sense of being elsewhere.
So the road is long, it never rains on Tuesday, the tax collector is a right bastard. Then, when the journey is quick, it does rain, or the tax man pleads for a favour, you are there with them. You know the world is no longer as it should be just as well as they do.
3. Ingredient or garnish?
I’m just going to say this – there’s too much walking up hill and down dale in Lord of the Rings. That’s not world building, it’s boring. If you want to see how the world bit of world-building is done well, read Jack Vance. Lyonesse or Night Lamp are good places to start. For more recent work, try Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time. or Kameron Hurley’s The Stars are Legion. Or go back to a favourite author of your own who, when you’ve finished their books, have left the little ache in your heart and mind that tells you have actually been somewhere real. Read their work carefully and notes on how they achieved this effect or that. It’s what I did.
You might find what I discovered, that world-building is neither ingredient nor garnish, but a spice, present throughout the entire dish, often only notable by its absence. But it’s there, and sometimes those grand vistas of landscape or vast technologies, or small details of daily life, all briefly sketched with pen and mind will make you stop reading for a moment and sit and wonder.
4. Be Specific
With shorter work it’s the same, but you simply don’t have the space to show everything, so decide on what is essential. Characters clothes, relationships, their jobs and the things in their pockets all add to the world.
No culture ever has ever called their currency ‘gold’. Pieces of eight, solidos, sequins; all these words bring a vibe. This is just good writing. Always be as specific about things as you can. This doesn’t mean you need to be wordy. Trousers can be shabby, leather, patched, russet, tied with string. All are better than ‘she pulled on her trousers’ because they tell you things about the person wearing them too. Make your words work.
5. Don’t stop.
Keep inventing as your characters move through your worlds. Ideas are cheap, you will always have more. Yes, it can get a bit exhausting but it needs to be done. Maybe you’ll sprinkle this in as you go along, maybe you’ll need an editing pass. You can do it. You’re a writer.
This isn’t all of it, it never is. If you think you’ve arrived and know it all it’s because you’ve reached a creative dead-end.
Writing is a continuous process of learning, experiment, refinement, finding your own path and voice for a particular story or your own writing voice. All these can change as you change. Writing may change your writing as much as life. Nevertheless, enjoy, have some fun. Serious fun.
David Gullen has sold over 50 short stories to various magazines, anthologies and podcasts. He is a two-times winner of the British Fantasy Society Short Story competition, his work has appeared in The Best of British SF 2020, and 2021, with other work short-listed for the James White Award and placed in the Aeon Award. David was born in Africa and baptised by King Neptune He has lived in England most of his life and been telling stories for as long as he can remember. He currently lives behind several tree ferns in South London with his wife, fantasy writer Gaie Sebold, and the nicest cat you ever did see. Find out more at www.davidgullen.com.
I have no problem recalling my first Milford, 2011, because I went into surgery the next week. Though “not a lotta people know that”. Anyway minus the kidney [ see same quote] I then did three years of clinical trial and two more of followup checks, so that my first novel, Ashamet, got published in 2015, after that publisher enquired about it. That’s one pattern of events I could do without, since this second book will follow neurosurgery in 2020, only this time I gave in and admitted it was cancer. Still, my thanks go to the small number of people who didn’t gossip when I preferred to ignore it.
But finally we get to the point. Ashamet’s original cover was a monochrome cityscape, everything in unreal silhouette. I liked it a lot, still do, not least because the vaguely ‘Arabian Nights’ appearance was closer to the [unseen] backstory than anyone but me recognised. But then the American publisher put it up for an American fantasy award, and the judges’ feedback included the immortal words, “a very good book, but it’s not fantasy”. Apparantly I’d committed LBTGQ, or whatever acronym was about at the time – who knew? I thought I’d simply asked the eternal ‘What if…’ question that’s at the root of every story, then followed it to its logical conclusion. [These days I have to wonder what reaction I’d get, given the current fiction-climate.]
So that first cover became a muscular warrior, but it kept the original black perimeter, and lo and behold, what had been mysterious and exotic in a silhouette suddenly looked more violent. In the end we replaced the black with red; the warrior still said exotic, but the background now said something more like conflict, maybe with a hint of opulence and even romance. In other words, it signalled a subgenre, but a different aspect of the book.
My second novel, out soon now from Elsewhen Press, is more SF [sorta] but in its own way tells the same cover-related story. Once again it follows cancer surgery, and once again the cover art developed, rather than ending at its first attempt. [Elsewhen Press were also nice enough to ask for a reaction rather than sticking to the contract, which can leave the choice in their hands as is normally the case.] And once more colour was a factor; not a warning against black so much as a warning to consider what message a colour choice can send?
When asked, I’d suggested using two ‘lonely’ planets as cover art, which was fine, only I quibbled at the first attempt, and at the black ‘space’ background. Once more it suggested more violence than I wanted – this ‘hero’ is more tongue in cheek, and hopefully less ‘epic’. I also thought it wouldn’t translate well into a postage-stamp-sized ebook illustration; too much would simply be swallowed up, especially by the black. And so the final cover has less black and more, or maybe somewhat brighter, colours, even though it’s touches rather than solid blocks.
So what have I learned?
1 To ask what message the cover, and especially its colour scheme, send to the reader; or what else might they expect of the story if I get it wrong, and
2 what artwork stays vivid when it shrinks to the ebook artwork; can I still read the title and author name; does the cover’s message still come across or is it lost in fog?
Because I also know, from a reader viewpoint, that if that happens people will be unlikely to even open those books, however good they might be, and all those thousands of words will be wasted?
Terry Jackman began writing nonfiction, more by accident than design, before eventually tackling fiction. These days she’ runs ‘s recently retired from running the BSFA Orbit groups and edits-for-hire between writing and the day job. She also runs the occasional convention workshop, and is strange enough that she actually enjoys moderating panels.
The British Fantasy Society annual convention was held September 17th – 18th at the Raddison Red Hotel, Heathrow. Although a slightly curtailed version of the annual convention that we all know and love, it was still well worth the time, money and effort it took to get there. I arrived on Friday night (16th) so that I would be ready for the full onslaught of panels running through Saturday and Sunday morning.
There was a lot to choose from! I opted to start with ‘Portraying Families in SFFH’ as my own writing is family orientated. The panel discussed the fact that the expectations of readers are now more focused on the depth of familial relationships–they want to see internal conflict and have an opportunity to flex their empathy. While this is certainly true, not all satisfying family dynamics are centered around conflict. For example, the four Fallow sisters in Liz Williams’ Comet Weather provide a more cooperative model of family dynamics.
My next port of call was the panel on ‘Writing Humour’, ably moderated by Sandra Unerman. The panel discussed ‘ways to approach the arduous task of being funny’. It certainly is an arduous task for me. The panel was interesting, informative and, yes, genuinely funny. David Wragg, by his own admission, aims to be intentionally funny in his books; he made it clear that you need the implied consent of the reader and that you must ask yourself: are you making a good point? Dan Hanks emphasised the need for humorous banter to be organic (‘organic’ is a term that came up a lot during the panels); and Jen Williams discussed her challenges around removing humour from her latest crime novel. When is humour appropriate? A good question.
‘Character Development in Short Stories’ was interesting and a good refresher. In short stories, characters are the ‘glue’ that holds everything together. All panelists agreed that any physical descriptions of characters need to be short and must appear early in the story. ‘Love, Sex, Magic: Romance and Relationships in SFFH’ was entertaining in its own way and covered familiar ground around gender issues.
The Guest of Honour this year was Liz Williams, a prolific writer and stalwart of the annual Milford Speculative Fiction Writers’ Conference. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her speak. Knowledgeable, insightful and overall deftly done.
The panels on ‘Religion in SFFH’ and ‘Mental Health in SFFH’ gave me plenty to think about in relation to my writing (and the writing of others). Religion is certainly a useful tool when it comes to world building and can be used to drive the plot forward. What I need to consider is how religion makes my characters think and how it influences their behaviour. And yes, when it comes to the depiction of mental health in SFFH, we really do need to do better. As pointed out by Tej Turner, a mental health issue could just as easily be a strength as a weakness. There was an interesting discussion on the need for trigger warnings in books–again, Tej suggested the use of links to the author’s website rather than include possible spoilers at the beginning of the book.
‘Writing Older Characters’ raised a number of interesting ideas. Firstly, the relationship between how old a character is compared to their natural lifespan, which can be very different in the SFF genres. There was an interesting discussion around the implications of older characters actually being immortal. The point was made that older characters already have their own story arc in motion (baggage, a complicated past) and are likely to have a different perspective on events. There are not as many tropes around older people, which may give a writer more freedom. While older characters can certainly learn new skills (e.g. technical skills), they can’t replicate the mindset of the young. I can’t remember which panelist quoted Oscar Wilde ‘I’m not young enough to know everything’. Terry Pratchett’s character, Nanny Ogg, was agreed to be everyone’s favourite older character. She gets my vote too!
I’m already looking forward to next year’s Fantasy Convention in Birmingham.
Susan Oke worked in the UK Higher Education sector for thirteen years before surrendering to her passion for writing. She spends every minute she can spare writing and has had short stories published in anthologies, magazines and podcasts. As the Review Editor first for Vector, and now for the BSFA Review, Susan gets to read lots of books—her favourite pastime, when she isn’t writing––and edit copy (another fun job, which she genuinely enjoys!). Susan is an active member of several critiquing groups and works part-time as an English tutor. You can view her blog and read samples of her work at: susanmayoke.com
Ramya Jegatheesan As a newbie, it feels like I’ve now got into the comfortable swing of things. I know what the day will bring – copious amounts of food, wine and useful, weird conversations. The weather today was clear and bright, and the Welsh countryside has been put on best display. An excursion to Dorothea Quarry after crits found me wandering around abandoned, overgrown buildings and a contaminated, gloriously blue lake. I was sure I was either going to be murdered and/or abducted by the Fair Folk – which might give you some insight into the sorts of stories we’ve read so far. It’s whiskey in the library time now, followed by a midnight (or nine-ish) dip in the lake (a hopefully non-contaminated one)
Jacey Bedford We finished the last of the crits today and spent the evening – after dinner – socialising in the library. Much wine was drunk, much chocolate eaten. Discussion topics were many and varied. This is our last night with a full complement of attendees. Liz Williams is Guest of Honour at Fantasycon this weekend, so she has to leave tomorrow morning, bound for London. The rest of us will have a day off tomorrow. There’s a contingent going into Caernarfon for a mooch around and a pub lunch, while another car-load heads for Portmeirion – the place where The Prisoner was filmed all those years ago.
While I’ve been here this week, my friend Steve Ritchie from Owen Sound in Canada found my book in his local bookstore and sent me a ‘shelfie’. I’m delighted, of course.