I wanted to go last year when the beautiful banners popped up on my Twitter. Sadly, I couldn’t make it and I was disappointed and decidedly grumpy, being forced instead to follow the hashtag like a child with their nose pressed against the glass.
This year, however, things have been different. I was in London. I could go.
But it was a limited victory, as I was only able to attend one session. Rest assured, I will be going next year and I will be attending everything. That is what is so brilliant and so irritating about these kinds of events – one slice is never enough.
This year’s festival centred around the ten-year anniversaries of some of fantasy’s favourite novels: The Lies of Locke Lamora¸ by Scott Lynch, The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie, The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson and Stormcaller by Tom Lloyd. Three out of the four authors were able to attend along with a whole host of other great authors including: Joanne Harris, Edward Cox, Christopher Priest, Ben Aaronovitch, Adam Lamb, Ezekiel Boon, Alastair Reynolds, Stephen Baxter, Catriona Ward and Elizabeth Bear. Split between author panels and writing workshops, GollanczFest is a real treat for anyone that is a fan of the genres.
It is events like GollanczFest that bring something special to the book world in a way that is perhaps a little under-appreciated and under-resourced. Festivals in all shapes and sizes draw in crowds, and allow books lovers to immerse themselves within an environment that is both inspirational and aspirational. What GollanczFest provided – at a really reasonable price – was the opportunity to be engaged within a community. Science fiction and fantasy have often been looked down upon: they are the genres of those with wild imaginations, not serious minds. We all know that this is actually ridiculous, and it’s these talks and festivals that embrace the readers and invite the sceptics to understand. The wider subjects of the world, such as Brexit, the US election and cultural appropriation, were all discussed in brief at this event, all framed within the potential for the future of literature and the observation of humanities potential in such situations. Plus swords and dragons and massive space ships…
These festivals bring into a lot of other, wider questions too, that I will probably be looking at in some detail another time: author pay, value for money, location, the duty of marketing etc. These are all very important topics to discuss, but to look at GollanczFest from a simple reader’s point of view, they are fantastic and should be more widely available. Book fans are just as geeky about their favourite works as film, TV and music fans (we just might prefer to enjoy our fan-girling with a cup of tea), yet the opportunity to meet and discuss with authors is something of a smaller deal in comparison. Through platforms like Twitter we can see when these events are going on, from small author talks to the big festivals, and yet there is still a sense that you have to hunt these things down, particularly if your favourite author is not from your own country.
I suppose it comes back to the proliferation of titles of books that cause the issue. There is only so much time and money that publishers can invest in events for their authors and books. And yet what GollanczFest provided was a strong platform with a variety of its authors for a good length of time and at a reasonable price. There was even exclusive merchandise, unavailable anywhere else – much like the exclusives at super-geek-happy-time San Diego Comic Con.
The panels were varied: from humour in fiction to the logistics of making a world work (with strong emphasis on how much we need to know about peeing) to the emergence of the dystopic and the structural development of series versus short stories. All of that was in the afternoon slot I went to. There was more I didn’t even get to see.
Perhaps I’m biased: my tastes allow for a general geeking-out that requires these kinds of events. But there is a strong part of me that thinks, maybe, other publishers should take note of what Gollancz is doing each year.