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EVENT: BristolCon Fringe Feb 20th.

On Monday February 20th, I will be reading at the BristolCon Fringe, which is being held in the function room on the first floor of The Famous Royal Navy Volunteer (or “Volly”) on King Street in Bristol.

I’ll be reading a selection of work from my new short fiction collection, Entropic Angel, which will be released by NewCon Press in April.

This will be a very personal evening for me. Back in the early 1990s, when I lived in Bristol, the Naval Volunteer was my local, and holds many special memories for me.

Doors at 7pm, with readings starting promptly at 7:30pm.

The event is free to attend and there will be a Q&A after the readings where the audience will have an opportunity to ask questions.

All welcome.

How to keep being creative in a crisis

As writers or artists, we’re often preoccupied with our work. But sometimes, real world events intrude and leave us feeling unable to summon the energy to be creative, or leave us questioning the value of art in the face of tragedy.

When there’s a disaster or an unfolding crisis on the news, it can sometimes paralyse us. Why am I writing books about spaceships or painting pictures of abstract nudes, you might think, when there’s been an appalling disaster or terrorist attack, or when the economy’s tanking and the threat of global warming seems so pressing and bleak? How can art possibly matter in such a world? What’s the point?

How do we, in short, keep functioning in a crisis?

When I start to feel that way, I think back to everything writers and artists have had to contend with in the past. Our Paelolithic ancestors daubed handprints on the walls of their caves, and carved figures from stone and wood. The Vikings told their sagas. Even as Rome fell, there were poets writing and sculptors sculpting. In the Dark Ages, people were still singing songs and telling folk tales. Poets wrote in the trenches of WWI. While the Cuban Missile Crisis raged, people were still reading and writing novels and short stories. In 1984, at the height of the Cold War, with nuclear obliteration seemingly imminent, movies and TV programmes were made and watched, books were written and paintings painted and sold.

Art doesn’t stop for history. In some ways, art is history. It’s the way we record how we feel about our present, and a window on the thoughts and feelings of the past. And it’s also one of the best means we have to influence the future.

The language of a civilisation determines its development. If that language is one of fear and exclusion, oppression and hatred, the phrases and concepts those words encapsulate become ingrained in the fabric of everyday thought. They become normalised, and therefore more readily accepted. But if the language employed is one that favours tolerance and empathy, it can be those qualities that come to the fore.

Art and fiction are important because they put us in the shoes of others. They create empathy and understanding, and promote education and intelligence. They allow us to share ideas and discuss what it means to be human, and unpack the fundamental commonalities we all share. They can reveal truths, expand our minds, and provide lifetimes of enjoyment. But most of all, they encourage us to dream of other, better worlds, and begin to imagine how we might reach them.

No single painting or novel can change the world, just as no single drop of rain can wash away a town. We may feel we have no control over global events. But culture is a cumulative phenomenon, and every drop helps create the flood.

We all need a little escapism sometimes. Life would be a drudge were we unable to escape into fantasy worlds now and again, and there’s nothing frivolous about providing readers with fictional boltholes. Indeed, it’s a vital role that bards have been playing right back into the dawn of prehistory.

As artists and writers, our work allows us to express what’s in our minds and hearts. As consumers, it can comfort and distract us; but it can also educate and inspire, and nourish our souls. If we ever lost our art and fiction – or simply gave up producing them – we’d have lost a fundamental part of ourselves, and be all the poorer for it.

Art is one of the candles of civilisation. If we abandon it, the bad guys win.

So, pick up that paintbrush. Open that Word document. Every stroke of paint or line of prose you make is a blow struck against entropy and ignorance, and a contribution to the net beauty of the world. You are not being self-indulgent, you are communicating – and communicating is what people do. We’re a social species, and we need you to help bring forth and express our shared inner lives. To add your voices to the chorus of those who have gone before, uncounted, into the darkness, and simply say to the universe, “WE ARE ALIVE!”

Silversands v.2.0

My first novel was published in hardback by a small press in 2010, and there were only 300 copies printed. Since then, I’ve had a few people ask me how they can get their hands on the book. Well, rather than pay £14+ for a secondhand copy, why not treat yourself to the brand new paperback edition, which clocks in at only £4.99? Yes, for the price of a pint in central London, you can get your grubby mitts on a paperback of my very first foray into novel writing!

And just check out that gorgeous cover by Terry Wiley!

silversands-jpeg

If this book proves a success, I plan to follow it with a reprint of my first short fiction collection, The Last Reef.

So, as I’m publishing this myself, I’d really appreciate it if you could RT, buy and review the hell out of it:

 

 

What Is Science Fiction?

At the start of November, I gave a talk on science fiction as part of a schools conference organised by the UK Space Agency and the University of York. One of the first things I had to do for my audience (mostly school children and parents) was define what science fiction means.

The trouble is, genres can be slippery to pin down, and there are almost as many definitions of science fiction as there are critics writing about it.

I started with this slide, quoting Isaac Asimov:

Asimov

It’s a pretty good quote. The “changes” it mentions can be changes in technology, sociology, politics, or biology (among others), and the consequences of those changes can certainly drive a story. Take Neuromancer or The Stars My Destination as examples. I’m not so sure about solutions, though. Since Asimov’s time, science fiction writers seem to have become more wary of offering solutions to the problems they write about. Perhaps life seems more complex now. Perhaps we’ve lost that postwar optimism and faith in science.

In contrast to Asimov, JG Ballard (writing in his memoir, Miracles Of Life) described his initial reaction to the genre:

“… science fiction was far closer to reality than the conventional realist novel … Above all, science fiction had a huge vitality that had bled away from the modernist novel. It was a visionary engine that created a new future with every revolution, a hot rod accelerating away from the reader, propelled by an exotic literary fuel as rich and dangerous as anything that drove the surrealists.”

For him, science fiction was a means to stretch and warp reality. It was a tool for examining ourselves. If the business of art was to hold a mirror up to the world, Ballard’s idea of science fiction was that of a funhouse mirror, able to distort and exaggerate certain features for narrative, comedic and metaphorical impact.

For me, good science fiction should blow a reader’s socks off. It should take that whole cupboard of toys and use it to tell stories that just can’t be told within the confines of mainstream literature. And in an increasingly bizarre world, maybe SF is the only literature capable of addressing the things we see on the news every night: cyber warfare; cloning; urban decay; ubiquitous surveillance; global terrorism; encroaching dystopias; etc. Which could be why more and more mainstream writers are finding themselves having to borrow from SF’s toy cupboard in order to tell their stories. But more than all that, it should show readers something they’ve never seen before. It should entertain and stretch their minds, and open them to new possibilities. It should combat prejudice and ignorance. It should educate and provoke and ask the questions no one else is asking, and it should have something to say about what it means to be human in an increasingly baffling world.

Writing in the introduction to William Gibson’s Burning Chrome, Bruce Sterling put it like this:

If poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, science fiction writers are its court jesters. We are Wise Fools who can leap, caper, utter prophecies, and scratch ourselves in public. We can play with Big Ideas because the garish motley of our pulp origins makes us seem harmless. […] Very few feel obliged to take us seriously, yet our ideas permeate the culture, bubbling along invisibly, like background radiation.

Maybe because of this ability to seem “harmless”, science fiction also has a secret history of protest. Soviet writers snuck subversive ideas into their science fiction, and writers in the US and UK have long used the genre to air critiques and grievances.

Historically, science fiction has been the literature of subversion and defiance; and as our world continues to change, it will doubtless be again.

“We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.” – Ursula K Le Guin

Science fiction shows us other worlds: worlds for us to fear, and worlds to which we can aspire. It can entertain, provoke and infuriate. In the past, it has been dubbed the ‘literature of ideas,’ but it is more than that; it is the literature of humanity interacting with itself, its inventions, and the wider expanses of time and space. In short, it chronicles our struggle to understand why we’re here, why things are as they are, and how those things might change.

Which brings me back to Asimov’s quote.

Definitions are difficult, and rarely encompass everything they set out to define. Sometimes the only way to find out what a genre is, is to write it. If you want to see whether my work measures up to the definitions above, take a look at my books.

Ten Tips For Novelists

Over on Twitter, I’ve been sharing my top tips for aspiring novelists.

 

Patreon Update

My Patreon page’s been updated with clearer goals and rewards. Help me reprint my first two books, get awesome stuff.

https://www.patreon.com/GarethLPowell

BristolCon 2016 report

BristolCon has always been one of my favourite conventions. I’ve been to every one since the first, eight years ago, and it has remained one of the friendliest and most enjoyable conventions I’ve known. Plus, I only live about twenty minutes from the hotel, so that’s also a big plus.

This year, the relaxed, all-friends-together vibe was still in place, and it was fantastic to spend time with friends and fellow authors. My workshop for aspiring writers went very well. It was fully-subscribed and the attendees asked lots of good and interesting questions, on subjects including: how to pitch to an agent; which rights you should offer a publisher; whether or not you should write an entire series before submitting the first book; and dozens of others.

I found this format to be much more useful than the traditional kaffeeklatsch format, in that the subject guided the conversation, and I felt I was providing useful information, rather than just talking about myself for an hour.

Next, I took part in a panel discussion on writing during times of crisis, emotional upheaval and illness. It was a serious subject that touched on some intense and personal themes, but I tried to keep my answers as light as possible, and the audience seemed appreciative of our discussion.

The big surprise of the day was sprung on me with only a few hours notice. The lovely Ed Cox had been taken ill, and I was asked to take his place interviewing one of the guests of honour, Sarah Pinborough. It isn’t easy conducting a 45 minute on-stage interview with no time for preparation. Luckily, Sarah’s an entertaining and talkative guest, and the time flew past.

After that, we retired to the bar for drink and conversation well into the night. Looking around the tables at around 10:30 pm, I couldn’t help but find myself humming a few lines from the Cheers theme – lines which sum up the BristolCon experience:

Sometimes you want to go
where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came…

My BristolCon Schedule

BristolCon will soon be upon us, and the programme has now been released.

I will be taking part in the following programme items:

12:00 Your Questions Answered – The Snug*
A roundtable discussion with award-winning author Gareth, in which he will do his best to answer your questions about writing and publishing genre fiction. An essential session for all aspiring SFF authors.
With: Gareth L. Powell

15:00 Writing Through the Storm – Programme Room 2
Writing fiction can provide emotional catharsis and writers often draw on challenging life events in their work. How does writing support you through challenging life events and how do such events enrich or distract from people’s writing? How has reading fiction helped our panel to navigate through life’s dark places?:
With: Kate Turner (KS Turner) (M), Joanne Hall, Stephanie Burgis, Gareth L. Powell, Neil Beynon

*If you want to attend the 12:00 session, please be aware that places are limited. 5 places will be available to book in advance on the BristolCon website, and 5 will be available to sign up on the day.

Patreon

Well, after a lot of indecision and to-ing and fro-ing on the subject, I’ve finally taken the plunge with a Patreon website. I’m a bit nervous about this, but it’s there if you want to take a look at it.

https://www.patreon.com/GarethLPowell

Video: FantasyCon Reading

If you missed my reading at FantasyCon this weekend, you can watch the whole thing on the video below, courtesy of Neil Beynon, who filmed it on his phone. I am standing in front of a packed audience (it really was standing room only), reading a couple of chapters from my forthcoming novel, Embers Of War.