GollanczFest 2017 part 3

This continues on from my first post about the Gollancz Festival 2017.

The first panel was called: Who you gonna call? Ghostwriters! I eagerly awaited the panel as the line-up consisted of several authors that I love, plus a few I don’t know much about, a great mix. The panel was moderated by Rachel Winterbottom (Commissioning Editor), and featured: Catriona Ward, A K Benedict, Ben Aaronovitch, Joanne M. Harris, and Joe Hill.

There was no shocking revelation that the authors had ghostwriters, nor were they ghostwriters for somebody else. The discussion focused on the why people like ghost stories, what is special/interesting about the genre. I’ve summarised a few things that each author mentioned; I appreciate I am missing a few interesting statements.

Catriona started things out and highlighted how ghost stories provide a form of comfort. She later explained the importance of creating a tension by scepticism and belief in ghost stories.

A K Benedict explained that the worst kind of haunting is the one that goes on in your own head. She also discussed the common link of depression, grief, pain or loss in relation to ghost stories, and how these stories can help as a form of exorcism of these feelings. A K mentioned a creepy experience of being chased around Cambridge by something…

Ben expanded on the statements by the other authors that had gone before him, underlining a few of the points previously mentioned. Ben went on to emphasis how ghost stories are a way of connecting and exploring the past, as well as our memories, making them live, possibly solving them.

Joanne made an enlightening point about how ghost stories are often satisfying, because they provide a reader with a sense of closure. Ghosts are also a way to explore areas of life that we don’t have the vocabulary to deal with. That we tell ghost stories to stop being afraid. Joanne delved in to evolutionary psychology in regards to our species was once prey, and our fear of the irrational, the unknowable, with of course death being the ultimate unknown. Joanne says she wrote a short story that creeped her out so much she has tried to forget it.

Joe took a different approach to the others, illuminating how ghosts are real, in many different ways. He told of his own experience after 9/11 of going to the cinema and appreciating the gravitas of things even there. How the silver screen manages to capture ‘things of light’, that repeat events, plus we are unable to interact with them. How ghosts are a metaphor for history throwing itself on the present. Joe brought up a Rick & Morty reference in regards to squirrel conspiracies and the fact squirrels don’t have fiction (or do they?!), which related to seeing a squirrel being schmucked. He also told a great tale about the time he spent at a hotel in a room with a boo!

The panel briefly struggled explaining why ghosts are different to mundane threats. After all seeing a person outside your window wearing a pig mask and wielding an axe is scary, but why are ghosts scary. After a bit of debating about whether mundane or supernatural horror was worse the panel arrived at the crucial point about ghosts traditionally being non-corporal, and difficulty of getting rid of them, or even harming them. This led to a building threat:

The idea of a pig masked thing getting in bed with you, and when you pull back the mask there is no face. (This nicely encapsulates the dread of the irrational.)

The interaction between the authors was splendid, and I wish it could have gone on a lot longer. The fact that stories are a tool of exploration, history, empathy and shield really applies to horror, but also applies to all fiction. This really set a high bar for the rest of the day.

Now back to my NaNoWriMo writing now, whilst resisting the urge to write another short ghost story for my fantasy setting. Thankfully the approaching deadline helps to keep me focused 😉

Next time is the panel: The Future’s so Bright I Gotta Wear Shades.

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Writing Curious/Crazy Experiment

As mentioned in my last blog about CampNaNoWriMo I’ve been listening to The Bestseller Experiment podcast. I first came across them via the author Gavin G Smith tweeting about them in October 2016, but I was busy, so I didn’t allocate any time to check them out. I was reminded of the podcasts existence in February by Gavin, who had once again tweeted about them; a shoutout to Gavin for his recommendation. I also owe Gavin an article in response to his recent interesting Cyberpunk article: The C Word.

For those that are not familiar, read this intriguing and crazy premise:

“Could you write, publish & market a Bestseller in one year?”

I wrote crazy because, well, it seems like it is. The thing is, it’s not entirely crazy, incredible things can happen with any work, and this premise has a clever marketing aspect to it. As I finished the first episode I was quite optimistic that this could work. Just take a look at the guests that they’ve had, it’s an extremely impressive line-up, and they give such brilliant advice.

It’s not just the guests that matter though. The show is hosted by the two Marks: Mark Stay and Mark Desvaux; check out their information at http://bestsellerexperiment.com/about/. At the start they discuss ideas from quite different perspectives, and they don’t always go easy with each other’s opinion. Since they are collaborating, they have a lot to figure out, I don’t want to spoil anything, but I think it is okay to say that a listener can imagine that writing with someone else could result in a big impasse. It quickly became evident to me that these interactions would also be a big draw for me, and likely other listeners. For most of us writers it’s a solo affair, so hearing two people discuss their approaches is quite useful.

At this point I think the Vault of Gold needs to be mentioned. This is a currently free ebook containing lots of information from their episodes. It might not be free for long, so this is another reason to at least give the show a listen.

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As I listened to more episodes, I was pleased to find that the two Marks have discussed so many writers concerns. I think they have done a brilliant job of building up their project, carefully not revealing too much early on, just snippets, adding to the mystery of the show.

By the middle of March I had listened to all the episodes currently available, and I eagerly awaited their next release. I don’t have a particular favourite, I think each is noteworthy; I noted in my previous blog that the Ben Aaronovitch episode is a popular one. Personally I think all the interviews were interesting, useful and enjoyable, and I don’t want to post spoilers. Since people like favourite lists so much, here is mine:

  1. Sarah Pinborough‘s wonderful energy, humour, some different takes on classic advice, and strong language. I plan on listening to this again soon, something I rarely do, so that’s very high praise from me.
  2. The Ben Aaronovitch bollocking, plus how they’ve responded since. Besides the outline issue, Ben gives heaps of good advice, it’s also an overall outstanding chat, don’t let the bollocking overwhelm the rest of the gems. This also deserves a second listen, there was just much in this episode.
  3. Having recently read seven books by Joe Abercrombie, I was really intrigued to hear what he had to say. Joe’s professional approach in particular was inspiring to me, again Joe gives a lot of good advice. Overall it’s brilliant, for example:

Be persistent. The longer you dance naked in the rain, the sooner you’ll be struck by lightning. Joe Abercrombie

I have a special mention in regards to Joe Hill. He gave a great interview, good advice, and it felt like friends chatting. I do have a confession, despite owning and reading several of Joe’s books, and loving them, I had no idea who his dad was. Even for someone like me who rarely looks in to the life of any artists whose work they love, I probably should have known that piece of information; if you’ve no idea what I am on about, like I didn’t previously, check out Joe’s picture. I think Joe would be amused, but also glad that his approach of making a name for himself has certainly worked with regards to me. I also now follow him on Twitter.

My rule when i get to a second draft is, ‘What’s awesome about this scene?’ I’m absolutely ruthless. Joe Hill

You can check out more guest quotes here:

We are now at the halfway mark for The Bestseller Experiment, I’m sure we can look forward to more superb guests, giving excellent advice. As for the two Marks, I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I will say that things are happening, and who knows what drama awaits?

I should probably update my iTunes review of them, I gave a good review before, but I am sure I can write something grander now. I’m convinced they’re not crazy, that this could actually work, even if for one of their audience, which they have said they’d be okay with, but still they are going for it. If you don’t try, you definitely cannot succeed.

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Be sure to check them out. What do you think of this experiment?

I should get back to #CampNaNoWriMo