Gollancz Festival 2016

Two weeks ago, I went to London, to go to the Gollancz Festival, at Foyles on Charing Cross Road. Because I had to get there on Saturday morning from the Wild West, I opted to attend the Saturday afternoon panels session and, with much more trepidation, the author party in the evening.

I’ve read a few Gollancz books – Scott Lynch’s three, Joanne Harris’s The Gospel of Loki, Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy plus one or two of the standalones and maybe a couple of others. I was mainly going for Lynch – The Lies of Locke Lamora has been my favourite book for about nine years now. I know I’ve never written a post about it. I want to and I’m going to but it’s difficult to talk about a book I love so much.

There were four panels of three authors – as listed:

Utopia vs Conflict
Ezekiel Boone, Al Robertson & Jon Wallace

The Comfort Zone: Leave or Remain
Alex Lamb, Miles Cameron & Christopher Priest

Don’t Make Me Laugh
Stephen Deas, Tom Lloyd & Simon Morden

Does Anyone Need a Wee?
Ben Aaronovitch, Ed Cox, Joanne Harris & Scott Lynch

I can’t remember everything – most of it, in fact. I wasn’t taking notes. Most of the authors came across as bright, smart, friendly people, people I liked, even if I didn’t like or had no interest in their books. We were given goodie bags which contained, amongst other things, samplers of new Gollancz books. I read Boone’s The Hatching which I enjoyed but it’s horror, monster horror, and I can’t and won’t read the full book. One about dragon-riding, I couldn’t even finish the sampler. I’ve read Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London which I thought was ok but it didn’t grab me in the way it seems to have grabbed a lot of people. But all the authors seemed nice – surprising number working other jobs as well as writing. I guess I thought once you’d got a full-size novel published, that became your full time job, especially if you’d published a few but evidently not necessarily.

Scott Lynch forewent the mic (“I’m American, we make our own”), Christopher Priest kept not paying attention to the questions in a hilarious way, Joanne Harris started off with no idea what she was going to talk about and Ben Aaronovitch is just generally fantastic. I did enjoy the last panel most – surprise surprise, that was the one I went to see. Logistics in fantasy and worldbuilding, or worldbuilding vs story.

Miles Cameroon answered a question by¬†asking who in the audience was a writer or an aspiring writer. Three quarters of us, it turns out. I don’t really feel like I belong in those numbers – SF/F fans can be somewhat elitist and I often feel I don’t fit but also I can’t and will not write science fiction or fantasy. Other than very short stories if I’m in the right frame of mind, I can’t write fiction at all. It’s not my thing. My writing projects are I Am A Polar Bear and the Arctic travelogue. A novel remains a very distant and probably unachievable daydream.

I got my battered nine-year-old copy of TLOLL signed by Scott. He had the longest queue of all the authors – it held up the party. (And I was quietly pleased to see how many of the books he was given to sign were brand new, unread and picked up from the table as the signing began. New fans are good but now it was my turn to feel elitist because I’d already read and loved them, and here’s a battered and much-read book to prove it).


The party didn’t go quite so well. I’m not a person who’s any good at mingling with strangers. I had a glass of something sweet and fuzzy and nearly wine-colour and I sat on the floor at the back, as did another two girls, warily watching proceedings.

The Gollancz folk are great. First Gillian Redfearn, Publishing Director herself, came to squat in front of me to make sure I was ok and comfortable and had a drink and tried to encourage me to come and talk to people in yellow lanyards, before taking to the stage with Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie and Tom Lloyd to interview them about their special tenth anniversary editions.I came close to watch that. And then I wandered and looked at people and got more drinks and then I was seized by another lovely Gollancz lady whose name I didn’t get, who dragged me off to find whichever author I wanted to chat to. (None of them. What can I say except “I really liked your book!” or “”I’ve never read your book or heard of you”? I did enjoy spotting Stephen Baxter – ten years ago, my friend Nigel spent an entire car journey from the valleys of South Wales to Canterbury telling me every detail of the story of the Xeelee Sequence. I’ve still never read any of it.

This lovely lady dragged me over to Tom Lloyd, joined in his chat and once he was settled into talking to someone and I was standing nervously beside him, she hopped off to mingle with someone else. I like Tom a lot, he seemed like what my dad might call “a good chap” but… I’d never heard of him, never heard of his books, never read the books. Even if I was a chatty person who’s naturally good at talking to strangers, what can I say to him?

I decided my best bet was to lurk next to the book table, read the backs of them, add some of them to my mental reading list and hope that it would soon be over. But then there was a lady next to me, asking me about them and I found myself trying to explain the books I’d read and the books I’d heard of. I sort of wondered if she was a mole, a Gollancz person without a Gollancz lanyard, partner of one of the authors. But she wasn’t, she was just a friendly Kiwi, accompanying her husband to an event she didn’t have much interest in herself, pulling me over to talk to her husband and another stray friend they’d made.

It finished at 8.30pm promptly, to my relief, despite everyone’s efforts to involve me. I’d been on my feet, with my knees more or less locked for nearly four hours and it hurt to hop down several flights of stairs, glad to be away, back into the dark of London.