Friday 30th September
I dropped Matthew at school, then Jay Eales & Selina Lock picked me up and we set off on our ROADTRIP! down to London. We had a playlist of CDs but didn’t need them, chattering all the way, though as the traffic was quite heavy and the sun was very hot, it perhaps wasn’t quite as glamorous as we’d all perhaps expected. Having said that, it was still an exciting ROADTRIP! and so that’s how we all referred to it for the duration of the weekend.
After lunch at the Pease Pottage Services (great name, terrible design of car park), we hit Brighton at about 2pm. Jay & Selina went to park and I took the bags into the foyer where, almost immediately, the joy of FCon hit me. As I queued up to get my name badge, I got a wonderful hug from Pixie Pants (she’s lovely, she really is), said hello to Sarah Pinborough and Simon Kurt Unsworth, Simon Clark, Martin Roberts, Peter Mark May, Dave Jeffery and a raft of others and knew I’d arrived. FantasyCon means a lot of things to a lot of people - to me, a big chunk of the enjoyment is meeting up with old friends, making news ones and talking about our shared love for the genre. This year, in a change, I was looking forward to meeting up in person with a load of people who’d become Facebook friends since the last Con.
I had a good room - third floor, above the main entrance (a shame I didn’t get a sea view but, on the bright side, it didn’t get any direct sunlight so remained blissfully cool as the Con sweltered in a mini-heatwave over the weekend) and the only issue I had with it was a nightclub over the way which thudded long into the night (but if I closed the window, all was well). I dropped my stuff off, sorted the goody bags, returned the books I wasn’t interested in (my tastes seemed to be the same as a lot of con-goers, if that welcome table was anything to go by) and headed into the throng.
Reading a section from "Mr Huxton Goes Camping" at the Alt-Dead reading
(photo by Peter Mark May)
The programme was packed, which was excellent, though it had the unfortunate knock-on effect that there were plenty of schedule clashes. I went to my first reading - Sara Jayne Townsend - then back to Bar Rogue for the Alt-Dead readings, in the company of Pete May, Dave Jeffery, Richard Barber, Ade Chamberlain and Stuart Young (who also brought me a bag of Robert B Parker novels). The readings went well, we drew a small crowd and then indulged in a Q&A session which was good fun. As the welcome meeting started, we stayed put and I caught up with Simon Marshall-Jones and met his lovely wife Liz and also finally met Stuart Hughes (ex-editor of ‘Peeping Tom’ and my cohort in Stumar Press). By now, it was time to eat and so our merry little band - the Marshall-Jones’, me and Jay & Selina, Stuart, Richard, Pete and Dave - set off. Jay had satellite navigation on his phone, Pete had a print out of local restaurants, but we still got lost. We ended up in a decent place, which was empty but still took ages to serve us, though it allowed for plenty of conversation and getting-to-know you.
At the Indian, with Richard Farren Barber and Selina Lock
(photo by Jay Eales)
Back at the hotel, I bumped into Mark Morris and had a chat with him and Stephen Volk (both lovely men), which is always a treat. Then I spotted Graham Joyce and - after he’d introduced me to Catherine Rogers - I got to tell him just how much “The Silent Land” had moved me. He seemed genuinely pleased to hear it and we had a nice long chat, joined by Simon Bestwick. Back to the Regency Lounge for the raffle which, as ever, went on for far too long - though Sarah and Guy Adams did their best to make it enjoyable - and I won a US edition of Clive Barker’s “Mister B Gone”. A nice surprise was discovering I was sat next to Paul & Mandy Edwards - we’d first corresponded over ten years ago, when Paul edited Unsane magazine and it was great to finally meet them both.
After the raffle, I went straight into the Russell Room for the midnight screening of “The Devil’s Rock”, written by Paul Finch. I’d seen it before, but it was a real treat to watch it with Paul in attendance and we had a short Q&A session afterwards. As we left, at 2am, Chris Teague said he was heading for the bar but I decided to head back to my room.
Saturday 1st October
Hotter today, if possible. Refreshed after a good kip, I had breakfast and sat with Trevor Denyer and caught up. By this time, I’d missed a couple of panels I’d planned to attend, so I went down to the dealer room instead. It was a small-ish, windowless room and it was like a sauna - even with the blowers/fans dotted around, I don’t know how any of them stood it. I wandered around, ummed-and-aahed over “The Five” by Robert McCammon (still too expensive, sadly), introduced myself to Peter Coleborn (I’d done the book trailer for “Rumours Of The Marvellous”) and Jan Edwards, hung around the Pendragon table, hung around the DCP/Hersham Horrors table and then had a long chat with Steve Harris (from the Inner Circle newsletter), John Worley and Stuart Lambeth about the joys of being a teenager in the 80s and working your way through Betamax video nasties! Coming out of the dealer room, I took a wrong turn and suddenly I was in the middle of Spinal Tap, trying to figure out where I was in a maze of corridors and odd, stand-alone blocks of wall.
I had lunch with David Price at a deli in the Lanes, then back for the Alchemy Press launch. Peter sent me upstairs to get my “contributor” copy and got Peter Atkins to sign it, explaining who I was in the process. Now Peter Atkins is a big man, physically and in projection and he’s successful, yet he stood up and shook my hand and enthused about my book trailer and made me feel wonderful. After a quick chat with Mick & Debs Curtis and Gary Cole-Wilkin & Soozy Marjoram (and an agreement that Gary would do the soundtrack to my Spectral Press chapbook and I’d make him a music video), I went to the Hellraiser Franchise panel, which was informative and good fun. Out of there and back to Bar Rogue for the Pendragon Press/Screaming Dreams launch, where I gave Johnny Mains the copy of “Worms” I’d picked up in Great Yarmouth. I bought a copy of his “Lest You Should Suffer Nightmares” as we chatted about sleazy horror paperbacks and Charlotte Bond, sitting next to him, joined in. She was puzzled about the book, so we explained the 70s and 80s horror boom and then it struck me. “When were you born?” I asked and that solved everything.
In the Regency Room, with (from left) Stuart Young, David 'Dai' Price, Terry Grimwood
(photo by Gary Cole-Wilkin)
I went to the Comics Panel which Jay was moderating (though my knowledge of comics is limited to Bullet and The Crunch from when I was a kid and 2000AD into the early 80s, or what Jay, Selina and Stuart Young tell me) and that was enjoyable, then found myself involved in a passionate discussion about the DC-52 (I think) with several folk, including Selina and a woman who clearly thought I knew more than I did.
Greg James caught up with me - Facebook friends for a while now, but our first face-to-face - and we went to the bar where he introduced me to his friends (hi Dolores and Jason!). I then went for a wander, checked out the art exhibition with Russell John Morgan and saw Jon Oliver, with whom I chatted about books and babies.
Arrangements had been made for dinner, so I met up with everyone outside the main entrance and our splinter group - me, Paul & Mandy, Stuart Hughes, Richard and Dai - decided to try out the Pint With A Pizza on the pier. It was a mistake - a grubby pub, cheap and nasty pizza - but the company was terrific and really made the evening. Walking with Mandy back to the hotel, we marvelled that everyone was dressed for summer yet it was 7.30, dark and the 1st of October - very odd.
On the pier, waiting for dinner, with Mandy Edwards, Stuart Hughes, Richard Farren Barber, Dai Price
(photo by Paul Edwards)
Chatting with Paul Edwards
(photo by Mandy Edwards)
The DCP/Hersham Horror went very well, with a good number of writers on hand and cake from Bev Chamberlain. Selina came by and we adopted her and I think she should have sat with us and signed some books.
Eating cake at the Alt-Dead launch, with Stuart Hughes, Dave Jeffery, Steve Lockley and Stuart Young. Peter Mark May hands out the grub!
(photo by Selina Lock)
Martin Roberts had collared me on the first day, telling me he was screening a short film based on Michael Marshall Smith’s “Later”, which is probably my favourite short story. I went into the Russell Room at 9pm - with John Travis, Jay & Selina, Pete, Chris and Stuart - with trepidation but I needn’t have worried, it’s a brilliantly made film, with great central performances from Neil Newbon and Nessa Wrafter and assured direction from Simon Duric (who used to be involved with the BFS). It’s also very touching, not quite reaching the poignancy of the story (which made me cry), but not falling far from it - I left the screening room straight away and had 5 minutes on my own.
Then it was on to the evening’s big events in the Regency Lounge. Pete got me and John Worley seats on the front row and I sat at the very end, in front of Jay & Selina. Teatro Proberto (John Llewellyn Probert and Thana Niveau) performed a stripped down panto-version of “The Blood On Satan’s Claw”, inventively playing all the parts themselves and it was hysterical, a brilliant production that had the audience howling. This was followed by the first set of Burlesque, as organised by Alessa Dark, a troupe of lovely ladies (and, later, a man who I will now always think of whenever I hear ‘Bright Eyes’ played) who put on a fine show (I’ve never seen one in real life, so I wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen). One lady came on - Baby Box, I think - and danced to ‘Good Times’, by INXS. All good so far. Our dancer got down to her stockings, knickers and bra and loosened the straps. She looked at me. I looked at her, nervously. She began to move across the stage, coming my way. “Oh no,” I thought, “go the other way.” She kept coming, stepped off the stage, smiled at me. I must have looked like a panicked rabbit to her, then she leaned forward and gave me a wiggle and there was a big reaction from the audience. For my part, I closed my eyes and heard Graham Joyce, sitting across from me, shouting about the unfairness of seat positions or something. Our dancer smiled at me, got back on stage and finished her set and it was terrific. Teatro Proberto came back, to perform “Corruption”, a film I haven’t seen but now desperately want to. It was another barn-storming show, with added puppets this time and one of the funniest things I’ve seen in ages. The burlesque came back, for another terrific set, ending with Alessa herself dressed as a wolf, dancing to Led Zeppelin. Great stuff.
I went to Ramsey Campbell’s Midnight Read, then headed to the bar and went over to see Esther/Alessa, to compliment her and her troupe for the great burlesque performance - she’d been so nervous beforehand, but it went down a storm.
Sunday 2nd October
Bloody roasting today. Up bright and early because I hadn’t heard the message that FCon attendees had until 4pm to check out, so I packed my bags and lugged them downstairs, then lugged them right back up again. I had breakfast with Trevor again, sharing the table with Simon Clark this time, who is a thoroughly nice chap. I went to Alison Littlewood’s reading in Bar Rogue and thoroughly enjoyed myself - she’s very talented and very nice, we only met this weekend and I was won over by her sheer enthusiasm (though her head-girl-style of getting stories in well in advance could get a bit wearing!). After another quick trip to the dealer room, I nipped into the “How To Market Your Novel” panel, moderated by my friend Gary McMahon. It was well attended, had some good names on the stage and there was plenty of good advice (though, on reflection, a lot of it seemed to come down to common sense). I was going to make a point about not giving friends all 5* reviews on Goodreads and Amazon (or your own stuff, for that matter), but there was a sea of hands each time Gary asked for questions. I stayed in the room for the Genre Movie Panel but it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, though some panel members were very refreshing - especially Anne Billson and Stephen Gallagher.
Me, with the "Alt-Dead" poster
(photo by Peter Mark May)
Jay, Selina & I headed out into the Lanes and the sunshine. We had lunch in a pub, I got Matthew a finger-puppet and we headed back, expecting the banquet to have ended. It hadn’t, so we sat up on the bar terrace with Gary & Emily McMahon, the Marshall-Jones’, Dai Price and Rob Spalding. The banquet went on, the weather got warmer and people started to get cranky. By the time the hall was ready, most of us couldn’t get in and so stood in the doorways, watching.
Plenty has been written elsewhere about the awards, about what happened and about the reactions, so I won’t go into details here except that I was there, it was uncomfortable and I wish it hadn’t happened. I was glad when it was over, to be honest and as I collected the bags, I tried to block it out of my mind.
Since Brighton was mobbed, it took ages to get the car, we said our final goodbyes, then loaded up for our return ROADTRIP! (with Raven Dane on board this time, at least until Hemel Hempstead). The traffic was terrible and it took us well over an hour to get out of Brighton, but conversation was easy and brisk and kept us all going on the gruelling drive home. I finally got in at 10.30, a rucksack full of books heavier.
Apparently, this was the best attended Con in years (which I can well believe, there were a lot of people in that hotel) and I enjoyed The Albion, I had a good room and it was very convenient to pretty much everywhere I wanted to walk (though the lift breaking down wasn’t good, I had to help David Hebblethwaite downstairs at one point). The Con itself was fantastic, never a dull moment and that was helped immeasurably by the volunteer red-shirts who - I think - should have won an award themselves (especially the lovely Pixie Pants). The awards debacle aside, this was a terrific FantasyCon and I had a truly wonderful weekend, meeting up with loads of old friends and making plenty of new ones and coming away feeling fully recharged!
Roll on the next one!
I’ve missed out a whole host of people, I know, but it was also great to chat with (amongst many others); John Forth & Esther Sherman, Shaun Hamilton and his lovely wife, Ian Whates and Helen, Donna Scott, Neil Bond, Will Hill, Pablo & Mrs Cheesecake, Maura McHugh, Charles Rudkin, Dani & Mrs Serra, Rob Spalding, Anna Taborska, Reggie Oliver, Terry Grimwood, Steve Upham, Adam Nevill & his dad, Andy Bigwood, Roseanne Rabinowitz, Helen Hopley, Marie O’Regan, Paul Kane, Joe D’Lacey and Paul & Cath Finch.