Tag Archives: Writers

Post Event Write-Up: Great Writing Conference – Imperial College, London

 

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Last weekend, on July 1st and 2nd, I attended my first ever Great Writing conference at the Imperial College in London. This was the 20th anniversary of this event, and I found out about it late last year, so I am a tad behind. But better late than never.

The fact that it was in London was a massive plus point for me. Conferences, especially due to hotel bills, can become very expensive. Especially as I don’t have a university behind me, footing the bill. So it was great to just attend the full conference, but still be able to go home in the evenings without much hassle.

So about the conference:

In a nutshell, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Arrived at 8:30 am on Saturday morning to register, and then after the 9 am introduction, the conference was in a full flow, with multiple streams of panels running at the same time. As is always the case with these events, it’s difficult to choose because there is so much interesting material. 

It’s also about the people. Sometimes you go to panels because you are familiar with someone’s work, or they are your friends or good acquaintance. Sometimes you just happen to get chatting to people at the conference and go to their sessions to support, as well as learn more about  them. 

My panel selections were a combination of all of the above. 

On Saturday, I attended panels that included topics as wide ranging as a permaculture travel memoir, finding authentic voice, writing and performing identity, transmedia storytelling, a paper on interplay of text and images in contemporary essay, as well as exploration of real-world choices in the movie Arrival. 

I chaired a session of three panels, which were:

The Teacher-Effect: Poets who took, borrowed and stole from teachers of influence by Jen Webb

Articulate Walls: Writer’s Block and the Academic Creative Practitioner by Marshall Moore

Teaching the Wisdom of Uncertainty by Karen Stevens.

My three presenters were from different countries, bringing in different perspectives. That’s one of the most fascinating things about an international conference, that you do get a true mix of people, and a range of perspectives. There were people there from the UK, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Northern Ireland…and these are just the people I spoke to. But even that covers a considerable geographical ground. 

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On Sunday, I took advantage of living in London and made my leisurely way, joining from 10:30 onward. One of the first sessions of panels I attended was one that created a bit of a discussion, because it included a paper on Writing about Sex, by Malachi O’ Doherty, a journalist and a writer from Belfast. 

After lunch, I presented my paper, “Miss You’ve A White Name” which was well received, and also got me into some wonderful discussions, including an issue of cultural appropriation and I ended up making new acquaintances. 

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After more chats, and more thoughtful presentations, and closing brief by Professor Graeme Harper who organises the conference, the 20th Great Writing Conference officially came to an end. Some people would stay on to go to the pub. I chose to make my way home, talking to one of the other attendees at the conference, as we made our way to the tube station by walking through the gorgeous Kensington Palace Gardens on a beautiful, sunny day in London. 

It was the perfect end to what had been a quite stimulating weekend. 

I am already looking forward to attending the Great Writing Conference next year.

 

Feeling Like a Writer

It’s a strange thing, being a writer. On the one hand, you just are. I’m always writing something. It’s who I am. I can’t not write. It’s as simple as breathing. 

But you know how sometimes even breathing isn’t simple? You get a cold, and a blocked nose. Or the pollution is so high that your nose gets full of gunk and you can’t breathe properly. Well, sometimes that happens with writing too. You know it’s simple. You know it’s who you are. But sometimes, it just feels complicated.

I’ve been feeling that lately. But more specifically, towards “professional” writing. I can still write. I can still fill pages of my journal, or write beautiful letters and what-not. I can still write stuff that doesn’t need to be finished, or stuff that doesn’t need to judged. But what about all the things that have to be finished, and have to be judged? What about stories that must meet a certain criteria, or pass through individual judgement? What about a novel that needs to meet my vision of what it should be? On that side, there have been stumbling blocks. 

And that led me to conclusion that I need to do more things that make me feel like a writer. 

Life gets in the way. There are jobs to be done for money. There are hobbies and interests. Crazy challenges that take over my life (I’m walking London to Brighton non-stop, 100km/62.5 miles in May). Personal relationships. And after all that if there is actually any time left, my energy level or mental reserves are too low for me to be as productive as I would like with my writing. 

A part of me resists this. A part of me thinks of all the writers who had full lives, woke up at crazy hour every morning and wrote before going to work. A part of me wants to be able to do that no matter what. Another, more realistic part of me is becoming aware that it is not sustainable. I’ve ups and downs with writing, as with most things in life. Sometimes words just flow. Sometimes it’s bloody hard work. Sometimes it fills you with elation. Sometimes it depresses you. That is the inevitable nature of creative endeavor. But it is also the inevitable nature of pursuing dreams. 

However, there are ways to feel like a writer. I’ve joined a local critique group, a writer’s group, and may even do more of those depending on suitability and availability. That gives me people and accountability, so that writing comes with a deadline rather than just something hovering in the background. I like deadlines. I like having something specific to aim for. It also feels more professional somehow. And more “doing” rather than “wishing.”

So today, I had to remind myself again that it’s okay. Sometimes you feel down in the dumps, and question everything. It’s okay. Feel it in the moment. Then get back up, dust off your pants, and start again. Because that’s all it is. One word after another. Sometimes it’s crappy words. Sometimes it’s torturous words. But they come. Because they are in me. Patiently waiting. When I stop obsessing and worrying about being a writer, underneath it, I already am. When I remember why I wanted to do this – for the pleasure of creating my own stories – it suddenly becomes such an achievable thing. It is there, waiting to be unearthed, to be moulded in my voice. Because I am a writer. 

 

Giving Time and Space to Ideas

 

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Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.

– Steve Jobs

 

Steve Jobs makes it sound so simple, but for anyone who spends most of their time doing creative work, you would know that while Jobs’ quote is accurate, the process is anything but simple. Connecting experiences and synthesizing new things often results in false starts, and roundabout routes.

I’m productivity obsessed. Usually it’s a good thing, but sometimes it’s not. When you are productivity obsessed, you measure things by the end results. It means you achieve goals. However, not everything is measurably instantly by end results. Sometimes, simply going through the process is important. 

This is particularly the case when coming up with an idea for a new novel. A novel is a huge undertaking, and even if you are not an outliner (which I am mostly not) it still requires some thought, some percolation of ideas until you are set on writing that particular story. This requires brainstorming.

Different people do it differently. If you are really really lucky, a story arrives, all set and ready with main framework. However, more often than not, it’s a small germ that grows and grows. Some people may brainstorm while running or walking. Others, like J. K. Rowling, may end up doing it on a train journey. Some people, like me, write things down to figure them out. 

I brainstorm by writing. It’s not a bad thing. But, it does mean that brainstorming session, in which I may end up writing thousands of words, may or may not be of any use. I may think about a story, write whatever comes to my mind, and decide at the end that it’s all actually rubbish. So from the productivity perspective, that’s wasted 3,000 words that I could have written for something far more useful. For something that would have resulted in a finished product.

But there is another way of looking at it, and that is creative perspective. Now, just to be clear, I don’t believe that it is productivity vs. creativity. They are not enemies, nor mutually exclusive. However, one does take priority over the other at times.

When brainstorming a new novel, without a particularly concrete idea in mind, creativity takes priority. That means that yes, there is a risk that what you end up scribbling or thinking about for hours, may not get used at all. But eventually, you will find things that become foundation for that new novel, or indeed any new project. Even for the material that you may not end up using, it may not be wasted. Some of those ideas may be used later. But even if they are not, it is still an exercise for your brain. You have still spent time tapping into your subconscious, connecting consciously with your muse, and you have learned how to consistently keep mining for good ideas instead of accepting whatever’s on the surface. It is time and space for creativity. 

For anyone really, but particularly for writers, giving this space to idea generation is important. Without that, there is a danger of staleness, or even worse, a creative block. The process of creativity, therefore, is no less important than measurable productivity. 

What do you think? Do you struggle between choosing creativity and productivity? Or how do you manage both?

 

BristolCon 2015 – The One Day Convention

 

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BristolCon is Bristol’s leading (and only) Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. On 27th of September, I attended it after a year’s break. It’s my “regular” convention, and it has been growing from strength to strength since it first started in 2009. One of the unusual things about BristolCon is that it is only one day event. If you are at all familiar with SFF conventions, you would know that most of them are a weekend long affairs. That means a lot of time, and money. BristolCon offers the con experience without the hefty price tag. Even better, it offers the intimacy of a relatively small convention, which makes it perfect for newbies.

I’ve been to BristolCon as a newbie, I have been on panels, and these days I do some minion duties (helping out on the day as per instructions of the Head Minion), but mostly, I just go to BristolCon to mingle. It’s incredible how quickly people bond, and how this once-a-year event can from lasting friendships. There are people, who I now consider my friends, whom I used to see only once a year at BristolCon. Somehow, in that limited time and space, friendships grew. The same goes for networking with writers, and other people in the industry. These relationships are built, one smile and one handshake at a time. Some will last, others will not.

I was looking forward to going to BristolCon 2015 for several reasons. For one, it was after I missed a year, and almost two years since I’d moved away from Bristol (where I lived for nearly 10 years). Another reason was my friend and organiser of BristolCon, Joanne Hall’s book launch. And lastly, I just wanted to be at BristolCon, and hang out with people I hadn’t seen for a while.

It did not disappoint.

Just out of the train station, I ran into G R Matthews, an author I’d met at last year’s Fantasy Faction’s Grim Gathering. We wandered down together to Double Tree Hotel, and from then on, it was meeting and greeting. Having had a glimpse of the amount of emails, meetings, and planning it takes to organise conventions (and realising, I really don’t want to do it) I have a special regard for people who do the job. It’s mostly a thankless job, and you are really only noticed if you screw up. So well done to Joanne and the rest of the committee that I didn’t see anyone shouting loudly for organisers.

I attended only three panels this year and they were all good fun. The censorship panel was way more fun than I had expected. Ian Millstead moderated it well, and the panelists – Dev Agarwal (writer, and editor for BSFA’s Focus Magazine as well as Albeido One), Joanne, Juliet E. McKenna (fantasy writer), and Tony Cooper (fantasy writer) offered their opinions, well-researched insights, and entertainment.

image(c) – Dolly Garland

 

I met new people, but especially got to have bit more of a chat with people I’d only briefly met before, or seen at previous cons (or kept in touch through Facebook). I hope that next time I see them, at least some of them will remember me.

Joanne’s new book, Spark and Carousel, launched officially at BristolCon today, with disco-lights and cake and wine!

image(c) – Dolly Garland

It was a successful launch, and included absolutely sweet speeches by Roz Clarke (editor) and Sammy H. K. Smith (publisher). It’s so nice to see all the love shared in the community. Because SFF is a community, and the regulars who attend BristolCon are a community of their own. 

Both the Art Room and the Book Room were full of great wares. Artist, Jennie Gyllblad was resplendent in her costume!

image(c) – Dolly Garland

 

Not really having paid much attention to book covers before (shame on me!) I was excited when Dev pointed out that the Guest of Honour, Chris Moore had designed several well-known covers, including that of The Stars My Destination. 

It was fun to catch up with people, and listen in on panels, but I also learned a lot. It does not matter at what stage you are in whatever you choose to do, there are opportunities to learn. This time, as I wasn’t on any panels, I paid more attention to people who were – who does what, and how. I saw how different moderators work, and what was more effective. It’s not an easy task keeping a room full of audience engaged, and it’s a good skill to have.

All in all, despite earlier reluctance to travel to Bristol (it’s weird going back to the place first time after you move away), I am glad I went. It was a very good day spent with very good, interesting people. So good in fact that I already booked my next year’s ticket – and I don’t even know the date!