Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Day 4 started with Cory Doctorow reading his Prologue of Pirate Cinema about a teenager’s illegal downloading resulting in the family internet connection being cut off. The boy’s frivolous obsessions withering, his rising panic and the family’s reactions were really well done. The protagonist had his first realisation of the (unpleasant) consequences of his actions for other people in his life – the true beginnings of adulthood. The story was inspired by the ‘three strikes’ copyright laws, three accusations of copyright infringement, with proof not necessary. The affected person/s can appeal. Cory said he never believed these laws would pass. The laws apply to internet connections, not individuals, and therefore minors can be ‘guilty’. Cory himself publishes under Creative Commons. His publishers are OK about that.
After the reading Cory signed my copy of For the Win. He was not aware of how much later the book was published in Australia than in the US and he said he would discuss it with his publisher.
Luckers of Dragonmount attended the concurrent Editing the Novel session and reported to me that a panellist was mistaken about the length of Towers of Midnight (which is 328,000 words, a lot less than The Shadow Rising at 393,000) and drew the wrong conclusion that the book would have to be split in two for the paperback.
In the middle of the day I attended Shaun Tan’s book signing and got two books signed: The Red Tree, a picture book about depression which my younger son studied for Year 12 English, and Tales From Outer Suburbia. Shaun Tan wasn't just signing the books he was doing little personalised drawings. For every book he signed. Truly awesome.
In the How to Review session, John Clute said that the choice reviewers make of which books to review is in itself an act of literary criticism. Dirk Flinthart said that in the electronic world the online reviewer is a most important figure. The panellists were largely agreed that reviewers should filter out the worst books. John Clute said it was a kindness to the author. Self-published books were looked on dubiously as likely to be damaged by not being read critically before printing. A review must show the good and bad points of a book even if the reviewer has to really search for them.
John Berlyne’s basic aim when reviewing is to describe whether a book is worth the money to buy it rather than its importance in the sff field or its place in sff canon. He thinks the ‘best’ reviewers aren’t authors and have no wish to be one. Dirk Flinthart thinks that writers can move from writing mode to reviewing mode.
Comedy Writing in the Shadow of Adams and Pratchett with James Shields, Duncan Lay, Tee Morris as panellists was an interesting session. Pratchett’s books are not just satires; they have great warmth as well. Duncan Lay thinks that few authors could combine that sense of comic timing with heart. Humour works well in fantasy though. It contrasts with darkness and books need light and shade. Tee Morris said: don’t let the greats intimidate you, let them inspire you. Duncan Lay said that characters are the essence of comedy and make the most successful comedy. Sometimes one-liners work, but they are chancier. If you get the characters right, then you can play with them. [I agree with this. The humour in one-liners or wordplay in say, The Gathering Storm doesn’t remain as funny over subsequent re-reads as the character based humour does.] Duncan Lay warned that comedy goes stale quickly and an author needs to reinvent their comedy all the time and must recognise when creativity and freshness is not there and stop writing. The panel concluded with the point that Adams and Pratchett wrote in the shadow of PG Wodehouse (an excellent author incidentally) and the Goons.
Juliet Marillier, Richard Harland, Leanne Hall, Carol Ryles (chair) were the panellists for the Writing Your First Novel session. Richard Harland and Juliet Marillier were late starters. Juliet Marillier wrote without thinking of being published or knowing about publishing and thought this was a good thing. She wrote slowly because a lot was going on in her life. She said luckily her first try was successful because she would not have persisted, or had the confidence to, if she was rejected.
Richard Harland advised not to get obsessed in the setting of the world or some aspect of it as he did. He kept losing the impetus of his story and kept making mistakes but never gave up. He also advised not to put everything in your novel – again a mistake he made. Experienced writers can see problems coming up.
Leanne Hall wrote a lot of short stories by which she learnt her craft, got known and built up a body of work. She has organised her life so she has time to write – she chose to work part time. Her advice is to love your idea and the process of writing.
Carol Ryles started by writing a journal as craft practice, and then short stories. Novels need synopses, plans to clarify the writer’s idea, but you don’t have to stick to them. She concentrated on character and plot in her first draft and then had to start again and add a setting.
Feedback is essential. Some of the panellists didn’t want close beta readers, but wanted an editor to do it. Other writers who you respect are even better. Family are problematic as feedback. Juliet Marillier edits as she goes, and doesn’t do full separate drafts. Early feedback may destroy the flow of the work.
The Where Do Elves Come From? panel consisted of Duncan Lay, Dave Freer, Jeanette Auer, Rose-Marie Lillian and myself. We discussed the otherness of elves and whether they are part of the human psyche. Elves represent a part of ourselves we don’t want to recognised and are someone to blame for bad things happening, or an explanation for events. Changelings, for instance, are a way of explaining the consequences of inbreeding when you don’t know about genetics.
There are creatures similar to elves in all mythologies including pre-Roman and pre-Christian, according to Dave Freer. Tolkien’s elves are unusual in that they are nobler, more skilled, etc than us. The Victorians made elves smaller, even childish. Lewis Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno are an example: they even speak baby talk. Most elves are capricious and amoral. Jordan’s elves (the Aelfinn and Eelfinn) certainly are and they are unusual in not even being humanoid. There are many kinds of elves in Europe alone and this probably reflects an origin as nature spirits; each type being associated with specific natural features (rivers, caves, springs, etc) or species of flora (oaks, birches, elder, etc). Orcs are elves’ dark side and in The Lord of the Rings are symbolic of industrialisation. Rose-Marie Lillian pointed out that orcs are not natural; in The Lord of the Rings some are made, others are corrupted elves. There is much blurring of elves and fairies. Their hoarded treasure is usually referred to as fairy treasure for example, not elfin treasure.
There were many good questions and points from the audience. With such a wide topic we couldn’t cover all aspects in one hour. We didn’t really go into the longevity of elves – where it came from and how this can give us a different perspective of ourselves, or why elves are long-lived yet declining, fading.