Adventures in Alt.Fictionland

Whew! That was a cracking weekend!

To explain. I attended Alt.Fiction, a most splendid convention based around the joy of genre fiction. There were panels, workshops, readings, lots of people, beer, shortbread, Pies (yes, they deserve a capital letter) and all sorts of general wonderfulness. I got home about an hour and a half ago feeling tired, but very happy and enthusiastic about a great many things. I decided, at some point in the wee small hours of this morning, (after I had raved enthusiastically to the lovely and outstandingly patient Chris Wooding – more about him later), that I would write up the event before it all leaked out of my overstuffed brain. It’s largely in bullet point stream of consciousness format, because that’s how my brain tends to file things. I will also provide a cut so that you don’t have to have it inflicted upon you if you care not one jot.

So without further ado…


  • Drove down to BL Towers so that I could drop off the corrected proofs for The Gildar Rift. Brought along celebratory cake as a present for Gemmell Award Winning Author Darius Hinks. Lingered around, cadged coffee, had pint of Diet Coke in Bugmans. I lived to nearly regret the last part.
  • Left Nottinghamville to head to Derby, an estimated 15-20 minute trip. About 20 minutes later, when stuck in traffic on the outskirts of Derby City Centre, the pint of Diet Coke began to make its presence known.
  • Find car park (which isn’t attached to hotel, but is bang next door). Vacate car. Entirely fail to find way out of car park. Am rescued by exceedingly nice chap (who later turns out to be Ian Whates, who’d have thunk?) That pint of Diet Coke is getting pretty insistent by now. Between us, Ian and I find our way successfully out of the car park! +1 success points!
  • There’s the hotel. We see the hotel. LOOK AT THE HOTEL! HOW DO WE GET INTO IT? We walk. This enrages my already-fragile bladder. I can hear it, a sort of swishy voice that says, in a wavery tone what did i ever do to you that you would treat me so? Be calm, my sweet, goes my inner dialogue. All will be well. Ian, who is some sort of hotel front door-finding ninja, finds the door. Oh, thank [insert deity of preference here]! Soon there will… WHAT? A LIFT? WHAT?
  • I check in. It’s the fastest check-in I have ever done. Walking hurriedly along the third floor corridors of shiny, pristine newness (in a manner not unlike that of John Wayne) I find my room and without a supply of graphic detail, all is once again Well With The World.
  • Head to bar where I engage in serious contemplation of my first beer of the weekend. Receive text from Dan Dan the Writist Man and we head on out to dinner. I eat the world’s most delicious pasta, followed by zabione. Which I determine is like the best Angel Delight ever. (As an aside, whilst in attendance at BL Towers, we firmly established that Butterscotch Angel Delight is indeed, the foodstuff of the gods). Upon return, I retire to quiet corner of bar with copy of Sigvald (written by Gemmell Award Winning Author Darius Hinks). I read three lines before I see Adrian Tchaikovsky, who as well as being the author of the splendid Shadows of the Apt series, I also know from LRP. We say hi, drink beer and have a nice, fond trip down memory lane. Adrian then proceeded to introduce me to approximately a bajillion other authors who were all staying at the Hotel With The Hidden Door.
  • I felt like some sort of interloper in an exciting world.
  • And they are all REALLY NICE AND FRIENDLY! Particular mention has to go to Juliet McKenna and her lovely son Ian with whom I chatted for hours. Then, after the pumpkin hour came and went and nothing untoward had become of me, I whiled away time until 1.30am with the glorious Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane. I returned down the Endless Corridor to my sparkingly clean room and crashed out. Until 5am. When I woke up due to being too hot, because I’d turned off the aircon on the grounds of being too noisy. Oh, what a curse.
  • Addendum: I read about three paragraphs of Sigvald, by Gemmell Award Winning Author Darius Hinks.


  • After waking up at 5am, I GOT up at 7am, went for breakfast and did all the things you do before going to a convention. Bear in mind that I haven’t been to a convention since about 2001, so I was childishly excited.
  • ADDENDUM. Breakfast. The free ‘hot’ breakfast appeared to consist of cardboard sausages, some baked beans, mushrooms that may actually have been toxic hazards and some stuff that may have been car sponge, but might have been scrambled egg. I took one look under the tureens and had muesli. THERE WAS NO BACON. (This reminds me of another point that needs adding later).
  • This is the picture that the Hilton provide on their website. THIS IS A LIE.

She hasn't actually opened her eyes yet. That's why she's still smiling.

  • Popped back to my car to pick up a gift that Small Son had demanded I take for Graham McNeill (whose New Baby[tm] is due next month). Car was still there. This pleased me.
  • Arrived at venue. Found venue more easily than door of hotel. This is a good sign, I feel.
  • Doors become set theme for the weekend, when nice chap trying to unload immense quantities of magazines from his car for the dealer’s room discovers Quad door doesn’t stay open. Enter Sarah, the Door Stop.
  • Am first person to register. Feel guilt at my Pathological Earlybird Syndrome. Get bearings, then lurk in cafe with cup of coffee and brood over the schedule. Plan out day. Acquire tickets to workshop. This, I come to discover, will be the only truly quiet moment of the day.
  • I make my way to the podcast room for the first event of the day. I have decided to attend Military Science Fiction which features Gavin Smith, Gav Thorpe and Graham McNeill. There is a momentary silence, the calm before the storm and…
  • BANG! The convention starts. Gav, Gav and Graham(which sounds like a slightly suspect folk group who sing about ferrets) are funny and informative. Gav T has written a mash-up of sci-fi and Thomas the Tank Engine, which I dearly hope is on the podcast when it goes up on the website. Many specifics about military science fiction. Oddly. It was really entertaining and very interesting, relevant stuff. The 45 minutes just flew over. After presented Graham with the present for the Newest McNeill (an embarrassingly pink teddy bear – which Small Son told me was called Mr. Muffin – that he then had to carry around with him), I repaired to the next panel. This was:-
  • Devil’s Advocate: Has Fantasy Moved Past Tolkien? The panellists for this were Adrian Tchaikovsky, Graham McNeill, Gav Thorpe, Juliet McKenna and Mr. Muffin. This was a very interesting discussion; particular when it turned to the role of women in fantasy and how it is so very difficult to move them out of the DID (Damsel in Distress) stereotype. Even Eowyn only got to be cool by pretending to be a man (damn loopholes in Evil Strategy Contracts). I think the ultimate answer that was reached was a resounding yes. Fantasy has moved past Tolkien, but it’s a fact that it will likely always be held up against ol’ JRR for contrast.
  • I then headed to my first of three workshops over the weekend, a Characterisation workshop with Kim Lakin-Smith (who is utterly lovely). Interspersed with her VERY interesting lecture-ette on the process, she gave us little writing tasks of taking a fairy-tale esque stereotype and adding something unexpected. Then we had to add an ‘ordinary’ person, and then finally to have them meet and exchange a little dialogue. In what was, Narrativium tells me, about 8 minutes.
  • Then she looked for a volunteer to read out loud.
  • I volunteered.
  • I remembered why I’m not very good at reading out loud. I can’t read my own handwriting. Nonetheless, I somehow struggled through it. I don’t think it was entirely terrible for something I had to write (with a pen, how quaint!) in eight minutes. A very nice other-convention-goer actually went out of her way to find me and say how enchanted she was by it. Which was lovely. I felt that I took a lot away from that workshop; not least of all because I haven’t had to write something so spur of the moment for ages.
  • It was by now lunchtime, but I was too buzzed-up to stop for lunch, good lord no! There was beer to be had with Dave from Abaddon Books. Whilst thus engaged, I was also delighted to meet the wonderful Amanda from Floor to Ceiling Books. She writes very cool blog-based genre book reviews and also managed to successfully freak me out in an entirely good way by knowing who I was when she heard my name. My author cherry was well and truly popped.
  • At this point, I still hadn’t eaten anything bar breakfast. Oh god, breakfast. Just going back to comment on breakfast.
  • Right, back.
  • Sat and had More Beer with Christian (my editor), Graham, Ross, Gav and a whole bunch of people before the 3pm podcast, Editing an Anthology, hosted by Christian Dunn, Marie O’Regan and Ian Whates. This was very interesting stuff. It covered such points as themes of an anthology, how an anthology is structured, the gender split of people in an anthology… I found the fact that after Ian’s publishing house put out an all-female anthology, there were complaints of sexism. He didn’t elaborate that much, but I got the distinct impression it was probably women who complained! I remained in the podcast room for the 4pm…
  • Tie-in Fiction and Shared Worlds, hosted by Pat Kelleher, Dan Abnett, Guy Adams and Guy Haley. Er, I think. Oh dear, I forget. Because some guests weren’t there, and I forget. Let’s just say he was there. Whatever. This panel was outrageously funny. Guy Adams is just one of the funniest people I think I’ve ever met. Seriously, when this podcast goes out on the site… just listen to it. My most overriding memory will be that I will never be able to watch Star Wars and see Chewbacca again without giggling.
  • 5pm saw the Writing a Battle Scene workshop with Graham McNeill. This was more of a one-man panel than an interactive workshop, but no less inspiration, interesting and entertaining for all that. Graham has a brilliant way of putting his point across, inserting just the right amount of humour. Utterly enjoyable again. By now, I had stopped drinking beer and started to notice a vague, passing hunger. There was a great big queue and I didn’t want to go out for something to eat in case I was late for the next thing I wanted to do which was at 8pm… and therein lies a tale.
  • A reading. With Chris Wooding and Stephen Deas. I am unfamiliar with the latter, but a reading is a great way to get introduced. But those of you who know me will know that I have frequently raved about Chris Wooding’s Ketty Jay series. I was looking forward hugely to hearing him read what I hoped would be an extract from the next book in the series. I got there nice and early. Some other nice people joined me.
  • And we waited.
  • And waited.
  • And waited a bit more.
  • And then we got the message that our heroes had been held up in the restaurant and were running late. So we amused ourselves by commentating on the passing Derby Saturday night life. We had a damn good chuckle.

She went by. I kid you not. Along with a brunette Alice in Wonderland, the Red Queen and some other random Disney female.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young are alive and living in Derby. Seriously. These four blokes who were the SPIT of CSNY stood on the corner of the Assembly Rooms and plotted the downfall of the planet.

  • At 8.50pm we realised Chris and Stephen had, in fact, stood us up. I was gutted, but this was rectified with the arrival of
  • The reading with Adrian Tchaikovsky and Gav Thorpe. Adrian read both an extract from his latest Shadows of the Apt work and waxed lyrical on the wonders of insects. He also read a new short story that was very, very funny indeed and I hope sees print in an anthology soon. Gav read from the sequel to his Crown of Blood novel and it made me want to get round to reading it. It’s bumped up the TO BE READ pile.
  • By now, it was 10pm and I still hadn’t eaten, but I’d forgotten the fact. All I knew was that I had the start of a headache. I took myself into the Memory Lane – Your Favourite Genre Books panel which was run by Juliet McKenna, Mark MorrisPeter Crowther and Paul Cornell. And oh, I’m glad I did. Because it was full of people reminiscing about the books that inspired them as children and I remembered so many things that I’d forgotten had inspired me at all in genre fiction. It left me with a lovely warm glow. But by now, the headache was pretty insistent. I had caffeine in the form of a couple of diet cokes, then I walked back to the Hotel With The Hidden Door with Marie and Paul where we had a couple more cokes before hitting the hard stuff.
  • After I had finished my hot chocolate, I saw Chris Wooding sneaking around. So after plucking up the courage (I can actually be a fairly awful fangirl at times), I accosted him and jokingly told him off for not coming to his reading. And you know what? He’s a lovely guy. The extract he was going to read was in the back of the new paperback edition of Black Lung Captain, the second of the series (I got the book the minute it came out, so this is a different edition)… so he gave me a copy. I was really happy. And then I proceeded to talk the poor man’s ear off until 2.30am.
  • I went to bed. I slept very badly because my body was going hey, you dozy bint, we’re HUNGRY down here and the rest of me was going sleeep. MUST HAVE SLEEEEEEEEEEEP.
  • Sleep won. Or at least, it thought it had won, because I woke up this morning with a monster headache.


  • Checked breakfast tureens. Slightly less car-spongey.
  • Had muesli.
  • Went to the SPAR shop and bought Nurofen. Ate Nurofen and offered up a quick prayer to the convention gods that headache would go away. Resolved to drink caffeine upon arrival at the Quad…
  • …which I got to FAR TOO EARLY due to my terrible affliction of Pathological Earlybird Syndrome. Discovered, to my great delight, that Paul Cornell also suffers from the same affliction. We sat and talked about comics and Doctor Who and drank coffee until other people appeared and I headed off to the first of this morning’s panels which was one I have some pretty strong thoughts on. Namely a podcast:
  • Is the Genre Just for Boys? Featured Mark C. Newton (The Whisky King), Graham McNeill (whose arrival included the comment ‘are we still on the ‘girls’ brains are too tiny to comprehend’ bit?), Jenni Hill from Abaddon and Jennifer Williams. Again, like the ‘Has Fantasy Moved Beyond Tolkien’ panel, the general conclusion was ‘yes’, but this was a very interesting conversation – again, with it being a podcast, check it out when you get the chance. By the end of this, my head had finally stopped hurting. Huzzah!
  • Who Reads the Genre and Why? This panel was hosted by Damien Walter, Jon Weir from Gollancz, Dave Moore from Abaddon and Paul Cornell. Again, another incredibly interesting discussion in which we talked about the ‘Genre Ghetto’ and how mainstream fiction readers and writers are starting to nose their way into our toybox. I was deeply amused by the idea that we would wait for them all to start reading genre and we’d all leave by the back door of the ghetto to start reading books on knitting.
  • My third (and final) workshop of the weekend was the absolutely brilliantly named Shooty Death Kill (In Space) 101. It could equally have been called the Dan Abnett Entertains a Room of People for 75 Minutes and Still Thinks He Has Time To Do More Show. Seriously, he was brilliant to listen to. Lively, informative, enthusiastic – loads of tips such as getting out of the house and VISITING locations to get ideas… oh, seriously, I think everyone in that room (including the lovely lady who has a friend who can tell you anything you need to know about decapitation…) was having a whale of a time.
  • Lunch break. I sensibly got lunch. I learn very quickly.
  • After lunch, I sat in on another podcast, this time with Adrian Tchaikovsky, Mark Chadbourn and K A Laity. This one was entitled Using Mythology in Writing and was VERY interesting. I was really quite into mythology as a teenager, particularly Norse and Scandinavian ones and was delighted to hear K A Laity talking so enthusiastically about it. I think the idea that sat with me most, though, was the concept that fantasy writing exists in part because of mythology and mythology stays alive because of fantasy writing. A lovely symbiotic relationship. There was also the brief conversation about the Cult of Celebrity.
  • I shuddered.
  • My good heavens, it was already 3pm and time for a reading by Pat Kelleher and Graham McNeill. Pat read from the second book in his very cool series, ‘No Man’s World’, The Ironclad Prophecy. The first book is called Black Hand Gang and after Pat’s reading I was well and truly sold on wanting to read it. Graham then read a section from his upcoming Horus Heresy title, The Outcast Dead and oh. Oh.
  • OH!

  • This made me so, so happy. All those psykers! It’s like… connecting all of my happy buttons together at once and producing toe-curling, squeeful JOY.
  • Graham and I then snuck into the last panel of the day, What Next for the Genre? This was hosted by Alastair Reynolds, Mark C. Newton, Dan Abnett and about the ONLY person I can’t remember! Nice chap, horror writer AND I FORGOT HIS NAME. I feel faintly ashamed. But the conversation was very good nonetheless; a very good discussion on the future of women in genre and a pretty interesting conversation about the whole e-book/digital revolution and the damage it will most likely do to the publishing industry with things like piracy being so rife. I agree entirely. I still love the concept of e-books, but it’s not made me any more eager to rush out to buy a Kindle.
  • And then… it ended.

So… Ross bought me a coffee before I left Derby to drive home and I was left to reflect on how my first writer’s convention had gone. I learned a lot, a met a lot of bloody amazing people and I had the absolute time of my life. Key things I have learned from this weekend, apart from the many writing tips include (but are not limited to):-

  • Men with ties will sell you bacon. (c) Dave Moore
  • There is a strange building in Derby that has a neon sign which reads ‘Gateway to Health’. There is then a picture of a cow. Marie and I didn’t quite hear what Paul said and both thought he said ‘that building says ‘gateway to hell’ and has a picture of a cow. You can imagine what happened to the conversation at that point.
  • There is a takeaway in Derby called ‘Nads’. I laughed like a schoolgirl.
  • The Hampton by Hilton Hotel needs the Door Ninja Skills of Ian Whates.
  • Remember to eat when at an all-day convention.
  • I need business cards.
  • I do not need to be terrified of talking to other authors and pushing myself as a fellow writer. Because I am. I have concluded this from what was probably my favourite quote from the weekend – paraphrased.

Writers write. Authors finish.

This really was a brilliant event and I will totally be signing up for the next one.

And now… sleep.

Mmm, sleep.

But first, cows.

Evil cows guard the gates to Hell. This may be true.


5 thoughts on “Adventures in Alt.Fictionland

  1. Mark Yon says:

    Well, I was entertained. What else to do on a Saturday night? Thank you Sarah. Very pleased you enjoyed it.

  2. RayeRaye says:

    So glad you had a ball 🙂 It sounds like an Excellent Weekender.

  3. Selina says:

    Very entertaining write-up Sarah. Think we met very briefly while waiting for Quad to open on the Sunday, as we were also suffering from early bird syndrome. Interesting to hear from lots of the panels I didn’t make it to! Dan’s workshop/talk was very interesting & amusing.

  4. adele says:

    Was a lot of fun hosting the podcasts, thank you so much for your coverage of them, glad you enjoyed!!

  5. Lucy Walsh says:

    Well I must admit that I also had a great time and very much enjoyed the people spotting on Saturday whilst we waited and waited…

    I was going to come and say goodbye but I lost you somewhere in the crowds yesterday! But it was lovely to meet you! Good luck with you novel coming out and I’m glad you had a great time too! I don’t blame you for wanting to go next year, I’m coming too! 🙂

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