EVENT REVIEW: Gollanczfest 2016

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The mini but mighty Gollancz book festival made a very welcome return from 12-18 September 2016, and while it wasn’t quite as ambitious as in previous years, we are pleased to report it was once again an excellent day out.

2015’s event expanded to Manchester, and it was great to see a publisher make such a huge effort to be less London-centric, but this year saw a return to the publishing hub of London with online events for those unable to travel in. We felt this was a bit of a shame but could understand why, since last year meant a lot of long suffering writers being ferried around the country on buses. This year also saw a venue change from Waterstones Piccadilly to the Charing Cross branch of Foyles, which was equally lovely although felt slightly smaller. There was also a format change with panels being held in the bookshop and a writers’ day, featuring agent extraordinaire Juliet Mushens, in The Phoenix Artist Club across the road. We thought this was a great way of catering to all book fans, whether writers or bookworms, and it made our lives a bit easier when choosing which tickets to buy.

In the end we went for the panels scheduled for Saturday afternoon, and we think we chose wisely. First up was a discussion on Utopia vs Conflict, featuring Ezekiel Boone, Al Robertson, and Jon Wallace. Things we learned: the size of the spiders doesn’t matter when they’re bursting out of your body, and authors do indeed cackle to themselves when burning their worlds. We have always suspected this to be the case, and now it is confirmed.

Next up was a discussion on The Comfort Zone: Leave or Remain? Alex Lamb, Miles Cameron and Christopher Priest talked about the importance of originality and whether it’s something readers care about anymore. Things we learned: we are all to be eternally grateful to Alex Lamb’s wife for nixing the inclusion of snail sex in his novels, and Christopher Priest’s new book is terrific, honest.

There was then an interval for drinks and of course book buying. This is where we did miss Waterstones, which provided free drinks without having to queue. We felt rather sorry for the Foyles cafe staff as they were suddenly inundated with thirsty panel goers.

The third panel was called Don’t Make Me Laugh, in which Ben Aaronovitch, Tom Lloyd and Simon Morden discussed the role and difficulties of humour in fiction. We heartily concurred with Aaronovitch who said you can indeed have humour without it softening the action, for instance the use of the head spider in The Thing is funny but doesn’t make it any less scary.

The fourth and final panel was called Does Anyone Need a Wee? and was all about logistics in fantasy. Ed Cox, Joanne Harris and Scott Lynch had a very spirited and entertaining discussion about the inclusion of bodily functions in the genre. We don’t know about you, but we have always found it strange that nobody in epic fantasy ever talks about the difficulties of needing to poop while on a quest, as this is definitely something which would worry us. Because we are have the maturity of an eight year old, this was probably our favourite panel of the day.

Once again there was a chance to both buy books and get them signed by any authors present. The smaller crowd meant that it wasn’t the scrum it has been in previous years, and the queuing system was well managed by the staff.

It should be noted that ticket prices had gone up from £10 to £15, which along with the more scaled back approach, did feel like we were getting less for paying more; that being said, it’s still fantastic value for money. The only thing we were a bit disappointed by was the lack of panel diversity. There was only one panel we saw which wasn’t entirely made up of white male authors; however to be fair, we could see from the programme that there was a much more even spread of authors involved in the events overall. Gollanczfest remains a highly enjoyable mini book festival with a chance to meet some of our favourite authors.

Once again, Gollanczfest has been a highlight of our bookish year, and we’d recommend you keep an eye out for tickets next year as they always sell out super fast.
GS Blogger: Michaela Gray (@bookiesnacksize)

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