FantasyCon 2017

After skipping last year – and missing out on the incredibly strange Scarborough experience – it was great to get back to FCon on the home turf of Peterborough, see some familiar faces, encounter totally new ones and, perhaps most importantly, to get to talk properly with people I had only seen fleetingly in previous years.

This year, I was fancy free, too. No panels. No readings. Just wafting from fascinating conversation to fascinating conversation. Obviously there were the usual endless, crazy meanderings with John Garland and Eric Steele – I wouldn’t know I was there without those – but also some excellently random new encounters with Anna Smith-Spark, Irene Soldatos, R B Watkinson, Harriet Goodchild and many more.

As ever, there was plenty going on if you could tear yourself away from the bar. Two panels stood out for me. One was ‘Historical Fiction, Historical Fantasy’ on Friday, deftly moderated by Sandra Unerman and featuring Daniel Godfrey, Peter McLean, Irene Soldatos, Andrew Knighton and David Stokes. Together, these authors (and one editor) represented a huge range of historical periods, either making direct use of them as backdrops for their fiction or plundering threads to weave their own secondary worlds. Obviously this is a topic close to my heart and it was great to get different perspectives on it – but also it led to great discussions afterwards, during which I got to meet the author of Bad Bishop Irene Soldatos (who, it turns out, is also a fellow archer) and to chat in depth with Andrew Knighton, who has written in, about and around a frankly ridiculous range historical periods, subgenres and subsubgenres.

Inspiration is what you come to these things for. I was not left wanting.

As it turned out, Andrew was also moderating the ‘Steampunk’ panel on Saturday, which – though he probably did not realise it – provided this in Brunel patent steamshovels. Despite there being only two other authors on the panel – Anthony Laken and Adam Millard – and a relatively small crowd, it really dug deep into what steampunk is, what it’s not, what makes it tick and what it ought to be doing – but too often isn’t. Anthony Laken in particular – occupying the newbie author slot I found myself just four years ago – provided some wonderfully perceptive and passionate insights into the genre, offering up a plea for steampunk to properly tackle the difficulties, contradictions and social injustices of the Victorian age rather than just allowing our polished wood and brass nostalgia for the period to obscure them. Sure, it can be a fun playground in which to run around (I mean, goggles and corsets – what’s not to like?) but it can be so much more than that. This is fantasy, folks. You can do anything. Build anything. Destroy anything. So, what kind of world are you going to make? And why?

It had been my fermenting next novel that took me to this panel, and thoughts such as those above – inspired not only by the panel itself, but by conversations afterwards with Anna Smith-Spark and Stewart Hotston – really brought it into focus for me in ways that were as welcome as they were unexpected. For some time, I had been aware, in a vague sort of way, that what this new novel was going to to do was ‘steampunkish’. But I had never been quite comfortable simply calling it ‘steampunk’. And now, I understood why. What I was doing here was anti-steampunk. I wasn’t taking an existing Victorian reality as a foundation and building an even more outlandish empire on top. I was taking an existing Victorian reality and then utterly destroying it. Suddenly, the path ahead is an awful lot clearer.

More on that later. But in the meantime, thanks FantasyCon.

Jacey Bedford: Five Questions – Guest Post

Jacey Novacon 2012-300pxsquThe best thing about FantasyCon is the people, and whilst on the panel ‘Stealing From the Past: Fantasy in History’ one of the fellow authors I had the great good fortune to meet was Jacey Bedford. Jacey writes both SF (the Psi-Tech series: Empire of Dust and Crossways) and historical fantasy (The Rowankind series – first novel: the piratical Winterwood). She subsequently invited me to do a blog swap – me writing on hers and her writing on mine – which struck me as a great idea. So, here are Jacey’s answers to five key questions on her writing and her career…

Q: Tell us your biography and background in three sentences or fewer.

Jacey and Daisy

Jacey and Daisy

A: As an only child living in a small Yorkshire village with no kids my own age I was a voracious reader of (firstly) pony stories then fantasy and science fiction courtesy of all the Gollancz yellow jackets in the local travelling library. I went to college in Leeds and started out my working life as a librarian, though I’ve also been a postmistress, a rag-doll maker and a full-time folksinger with the trio, Artisan, touring internationally. I still live in Yorkshire – in a different small village – with my songwriter husband, a bonkers German Shepherd dog and too many books – no scrub that last bit – there’s no such thing as too many books.

Q: How and when did you begin writing, and what was your first published piece?

A: I’ve always written. When I was five, in primary school I could read fluently, but my writing was a bit slow, so I used to practise writing little stories for my mum during lunch hour. I got into the habit and never stopped. I began my first novel when I was fifteen, a future dystopia featuring characters from my favourite pop groups. (Be very glad that I stopped at chapter six!) At first I wouldn’t let anyone read what I wrote, and only started seriously considering publication in the mid 90s, about the time home computer technology eliminated the need for being an accurate touch-typist. (I’m a fast, but not very accurate, hunt-and-peck typist.) I wrote two novels before trying my hand at short stories. My first short story sale was: The Jewel of Locaria to a mass-market paperback anthology called Warrior Princesses, edited by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough and published by DAW in the USA around 1997. It’s pure coincidence (but a very happy one) that my novels are now published by DAW.

Day of the TriffidsWhat’s so special about writing speculative fiction?

I became hooked on science fiction when I was twelve and bought a copy of John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids from the school book club, and followed that up with Wyndham’s The Chrysalids. Until then I’d mostly read pony stories. My gateway to fantasy was discovering C.S.Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy which combined the two.

Speculative fiction is boundless. I read and write to escape, so mundane settings don’t interest me nearly as much as the distant past or the far future. I like stories that ask: What if? I write both historical fantasy and science fiction, in worlds that are our own with a few basic differences, and some that are most definitely not. I’ve never had much interest in reading or writing about the present day unless there’s a fantasy or science-fictional twist. Basically I like making stuff up, inventing new worlds or restructuring old ones, birthing new characters, discovering new situations. It’s all about the What if?

Crossways: Book Two in the Psi-Tech series.

Crossways: Book Two in the Psi-Tech series.

Tell us about your most recent publication or current writing project

My first novel (2014) is Empire of Dust. It’s the first in my Psi-Tech sequence. The sequel is Crossways, (2015). They are science fiction set in the far future and feature characters with psionic implants, colony expansion, a star-spanning manhunt, evil megacorporations, a space-station full of misfits and outcasts, and something strange lurking in the depths of foldspace.

My third book to be published is a historical fantasy called Winterwood, due in February 2016, and I can now reveal the cover! It’s got a cross-dressing female privateer captain (and witch), the jealous ghost of her late husband, a motley crew of barely reformed pirates, a deadly villain who fights magic with darker magic, and a wolf shapechanger who gets very upset if you call him a werewolf. (He’s NOT moon-called, he insists.) There’s a puzzle to be solved and an ancient wrong to be set right. Ross has choices to make between the sea and the land, and between the ghost from her past or the man who may become the love of her future.

Winterwood, the first novel of The Rowankind.

Winterwood, the first novel of The Rowankind.

I’m published by DAW in the USA, which means you can only buy them as imports in the UK, from specialist bookstores or Amazon. It’s pure coincidence that I ended up being published by the same publisher which bought my first short story, but I’m absolutely delighted to be a DAWthor. I started out with a three book deal and have just signed a second deal for two more books.

What’s next?

My next contract with DAW covers the third Psi-Tech book, Nimbus, and a sequel to Winterwood, called Silverwolf. I’m writing Silverwolf right now, and really enjoying taking the adventures of Ross and Corwen to new places. Winterwood was Ross’s book, but Silverwolf explores Corwen’s origins and, in addition to a very personal story, carries the changes that happen in Winterwood to their logical conclusion, What happens when magic comes back into a world that’s only part way through its industrial revolution?

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Twitter: @jaceybedford