Super Nova(con)

A convention snapshot…

Novacon is the UK’s longest-established science fiction convention. It started in 1971 as the Birmingham Science Fiction Group’s annual meetup, then expanded and moved around over the years, eventually finding its spiritual home in Nottingham. Novacon is a little different to your bigger conventions; there are no costumes or that sort of thing, and has a stronger emphasis on the literary side of SF&F, but all aspects of fandom are covered – film, television and comics, etc. As you might expect, there’s a rolling programme of panel discussions, science talks, art talks and a whole range of other things alongside book launches, author readings and of course, the busy dealer’s room, fantastic art show and art auction. Every year offers something different and a Guest of Honour whose presence, interests and work form a central point to many of the discussions. 

This year’s Guest of Honour was Mike Carey – perhaps now best known as author of The Girl With All the Gifts. Needless to say, the film and book were regular talking points, as were Carey’s Felix Castor series and his work in the graphic novel industry. In fact, the discussions around comics and graphic novels was refreshing and really interesting for me, as a one-time wannabe comic artist! Mike also gave us several engaging readings from his forthcoming novel, The Book of Koli

I have been going to Novacon since 2012 and have met a wide range of amazing people – many have become good friends and others I’ve gone on to collaborate with on cover art. During Sunday’s closing ceremony, Mike Carey described Novacon as “warm hearted”, and I couldn’t have put it better. The bulk of the membership is made up by many familiar, returning faces. It is an easygoing and welcoming convention and refreshing to be able to casually chat with renowned authors or artists without any sense of celebrity or ego. This year, Christopher Priest attended with his daughter Elizabeth – now also a published writer. It was great to have the time to catch up with him, as I have admired his writing for many years. 

The convention drink of choice is Black Sheep ale, which tends to start flowing early on and continues throughout the weekend. It may result in people falling asleep during talks and snoring loudly (the point at which a polite reminder they’ve also paid for a bed wouldn’t be a bad thing). But loud nasal interference aside, it is always nice to have the flexibility that the con offers; some folk attend all the talks, some are more selective, while others simply seem to go purely for the social side of things and set up camp in the bar, catching up with old friends and making new ones.

While the crowd ought to (and deserves to) be a little larger, what I do like about this convention is its size, as you can find the time and space for proper conversation; and if you want to find somebody again, you can – unlike at bigger events such as Eastercon where everything is so packed and frantic, and simply trying to track somebody down or have a conversation in more than passing is quite difficult.

I mainly attend Novacon to be a part of the art show. It is always an honour to be able to exhibit my work alongside renowned space and science fiction artist, David A. Hardy (who has been at every Novacon since 1973!). The art show brings in a vast range of styles and genres, from new artists to well-known names. The art room – or in this year’s case, rooms – are brimming with science fiction, space and fantasy art and illustration in all media, plus various other arts and crafts, such as jewellery, needlework and even knitwear! Serena and John always work tirelessly to make sure their artists are looked after, and we can never thank them enough! Most of the art on show comes with a bid sheet for any potential buyers, and the pieces with bids are entered into the art auction on the Sunday.

The dealers’ room mainly comprises booksellers and independent publishers, such as PS Publishing, NewCon Press and Elsewhen Press – all of whom are putting out some of the most exciting and original titles in science and speculative fiction, fantasy and horror. 

It’s not all about science fiction though – Novacon doesn’t forget the science bit! Although this year, there was no British Interplanetary Society presence, David A. Hardy gave us a whirlwind visual tour of the planets, via his excellent presentation To the Stars – On A Paintbrush!, and as always, there were two science talks. I missed the first, but astrophysicist, Dr Rachael Livermore gave an excellent insight on the Sunday morning into Dark Matter – a fascinating and fun way to start the day (even though I tend to find science talks first thing in the morning a little too much for my convention brain!). 

I took part in the panel which followed – a great discussion on working with artists, alongside Mike Carey, Manga expert Zoe Burgess and Peter Buck of Elsewhen Press – all chaired by Patrick McMurray. I have obviously attended enough Novacons now to have progressed from audience member to panel participant! 

Novacon for me is also about those great connections. Two such examples are Elsewhen Press, whom I met during my first Novacon, and have since illustrated several of their book covers; and a couple of conventions later, I met Helen Claire Gould, who after seeing my art display, invited me to produce the cover art for her début novel, Floodtide – it was great to see Helen back at Novacon this year, promoting the book as well as her more recent titles.

The Sunday afternoon sadly comes around so quickly, and it doesn’t feel like a few minutes have past since installing the art show on the Friday, when the time comes to reluctantly disassemble it. However, with not one, but four Guests of Honour booked for next year – Novacon’s big five-o – it will certainly be an event to look forward to.

After all, what more could you want, but to share a hotel with several hundred likeminded people?

Novacon 49. Photos by Alexa Dubreuil-Storer

Mike Carey – All That’s Red Earth

For this year’s Novacon (report to follow…), I was invited to provide the cover art to the traditional convention chapbook that each attendee receives in their welcome pack. This year’s Guest of Honour was Mike Carey, author of The Girl With All the Gifts and the Felix Castor series (among others!).

This year’s chapbook – limited to just 250 copies – contains two short stories; All That’s Red Earth and Second Wing. Both stories are featured in The Complete Short Stories of Mike Carey, from PS Publishing. However, this was an opportunity to illustrate one of them, and All That’s Red Earth was the selected, as it is the story that ultimately spawned Mike’s forthcoming novel, The Book of Koli.

I usually ask writers or publishers for a synopsis and chapter or excerpt, as I rarely have the time to read a full manuscript prior to illustrating a book cover. However, this being a short story was ideal, as I could read the whole thing. Mike was particularly keen on one of the scenes towards the end, where the story’s protagonist Tari, summons a snowstorm by magic. We also agreed it would also work well as an image to provide an overall feel for the story.

Mono draft sketch:

One of the many enjoyable things about this cover for me was that it was a little different to what I’ve done before, and I also wanted to reflect that in the colour scheme. While the scene needed the onset of a blizzard, too much snow wouldn’t work, and I really wanted to capture the colours of a wintry sunset. The character of Tari is an unusual one, which took a couple of revisions to get right – such is the joy of working digitally!

It was a real pleasure to be able to give All That’s Red Earth its own cover art – and here it is.

Final cover:

New art, Novacon 49 and Mutate promo

The science fiction gallery page has been updated with the addition of two brand new pieces of artwork, Simulacrum and Into Battle.

These two pieces plus many others will be part of my display in the art show at next month’s Novacon – the UK’s longest-running science fiction convention. This year’s Guest of Honour is writer Mike Carey, perhaps best known for The Girl With All the Gifts. If you’re going, do drop by the art room and say hello!

Finally, here are two promotional videos for Mutate:

Album release teaser:

Mutation – full length video

Mutate – out today

Mutate, my new album of cinematic, electronic instrumentals is out today in digital format from the following websites:

Bandcamp: thelightdreams.bandcamp.com/album/mutate

8-track digital album (MP3, AIF, etc) comes with a 9-page PDF booklet plus 50-minute continuous mix of the album!

MusicGlue: musicglue.com/the-light-dreams

8-track digital album in MP3 format

Listen to Visitant on SoundCloud:

Mutate: Out Friday 20th Sept!

One of the biggest revelations for me over the last decade, was discovering that I can create the kind of music I have always wanted to make, from the comfort of a home studio. “Studio” feels like a bit of a grand term, given that everything is contained within my Apple Mac (then again, I do work in my home studio where I also do illustration/artwork). But to be in an age where we can have access to such wonderful production tools and the ability to self-publish work online, is simply fantastic.

There are obvious pros and cons to this kind of setup – whatever you are publishing. Making music is a very personal process. I make the kind of music I like, with the hope that likeminded folk out there might enjoy it too. But there does come a point when you’ve heard your own work too much, and the obvious things no longer stand out. That’s usually when I’ll ask a couple of people for feedback. For me, the mixing and tweaking process is usually a more time consuming process than composing the initial tracks.

However, the final challenge is knowing when to step back; to declare it complete. This thing you’ve slaved and toiled over for months – is it ready? Really? I find that point often comes instinctively, and it is then that you have to stop fiddling with it. Too much fiddling, and you risk overworking it (I’ve been there many times!). Even so, there is always a moment of doubt and there will usually be things you want to amend or revisit later – and sometimes I do. But it is always a slightly unsettling moment, prior to hitting that “publish” button.

And that is what is going to happen this week.

Since January, I have been working on Mutate – an 8 track album of dark electronic instrumentals.

Mutate will be available from Friday 20th September via my pages on Bandcamp and Musicglue

More details will follow… meanwhile, here in full is the opening track, Underground.

Music for the Stars

I have added a new page to the ‘Special Projects’ section of the site – my essay on the influence of space travel in music and popular culture – Musica Universalis.

This piece looks at the evolution of electronic music in tandem with the golden era of space travel as well as those eternal musical associations, such as David Bowie’s Space Oddity and the Apollo 11 moon landing.

I wrote lengthy sections on David Bowie, Jean-Michel Jarre and Mike Oldfield, exploring their association with space and how their music is still today, used in conjunction with space travel projects. I also looked at film and television series music in science fiction, and how it’s all connected… If that sounds like your kind of thing, read on!

The Call of the Aïdin Planet – in print!

Today I received copies of the hardback and paperback versions of L.Z. Dàin’s novel, The Call of the Aïdin Planet – book one of The Legacy Saga – to which I had the pleasure of illustrating and designing the cover.

I’m delighted with just how good they look in print, and as always, it is a genuine pleasure to see an author’s dream become a reality. To find out more, visit: https://www.theaidinhorizon.net

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